Regional card to ease business travel in ASEAN

Regional card to ease business travel in ASEAN
PHOTO: Brunei Times/ANN

ASEAN needs to accelerate the launch of the ASEAN Business Travel Card (ASEAN-BTC) as it will help businesses achieve better savings resulting from expedited processes for immigration clearances, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) said.

In its 2015 report to leaders, the ASEAN BAC said the region's BTC can be modelled to the one used by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) which allows cardholders visa-free entry and hastens immigration processes through designated "premier lanes" in participating countries.

According to ASEAN BAC, the APEC-BTC has contributed to an annual time-savings of 62,413 hours which is equivalent to US$1.9 million.

The amount saved is more than the annual contribution of each ASEAN member states to the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN BAC said.

APEC-BTC also reduced costs associated with application times by 43.3 per cent, immigration costs by 52.4 per cent and application fees by 27.8 per cent.

Recent information gathered by ASEAN BAC also suggests that up to 91 per cent of those who applied for the APEC-BTC are satisfied with the operation of this facility.

Apart from cost-savings, ASEAN BAC said that the regional travel card "will likely" boost border integrity and security due to better recordkeeping.

The council said this will also increase the number of low-risk travellers as each applicant is checked against the watchlists of the participating countries.

ASEAN BAC said the travel card needs to have a three-year validity period which can be renewed.

Applications for the facility can be accompanied by a supporting letter that explains the applicants' investment and trade activities in ASEAN.

ASEAN Leaders acknowledged the proposal for the ASEAN-BTC, which would ease movement among investors and entrepreneurs, during the 22nd ASEAN Summit in Brunei.

The travel card is one of the other initiatives to improve mobility in ASEAN particularly for those who travel frequently in the region to run their business.

Regional connectivity also extends to other areas such as the aviation sector which needs to to develop an open skies policy where airlines can fly freely throughout the region in a single and unified air transport market.

Such policy is expected to benefit customers who will enjoy better quality of service and lower fares. Currently, such flights are restricted as they can only be enforced through government-to-government deals that determine elements such as how often carriers can fly between two points.

However, ASEAN's consensual approach means that liberalised air transport can only be pursued through agreements that member states must voluntarily accept. This is unlike the European Union where integration measures have automatic force.

According to business intelligence website ASEANBriefing, carriers from the Asia-Pacific were expected to be the second-best performers in 2014 with US$3.5 billion in combined profits.

The drop in oil prices should also continue to keep the airlines' costs down in 2015.

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