Cohesiveness will be vital for Asean’s post-pandemic economic recovery (The Business Times)

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (on the right screen) addresses a live video conference on the special Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three Summit on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Hanoi on April 14, 2020 as South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China’s Premier Li Keqiang are seen on left television screen.
Photo: The Business Times/Manan Vatsyayana

We live in extraordinary times. We have seen a health emergency become a global economic emergency, creating unprecedented stress on families, companies and communities. We should count ourselves lucky, however, to live in a region that holds so much promise, energy, and fortitude. As I write this piece, the ASEAN Economic Ministers will be meeting to discuss strategies for the post-pandemic economic recovery for the region. There may never have been a more important meeting of this body. 

Despite the ongoing pandemic emergency, ASEAN is, I believe, well placed to emerge stronger, and better equipped to seize the opportunities of the future if the 10 member states work together to take clear and decisive steps. 

The EU-ASEAN Business Council, the European business body for Southeast Asia that I chair, and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council recently issued a Joint Statement calling for such an approach. Those bodies, plus a host of organisations representing businesses from the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Russia, East Asia, as well as young entrepreneurs and specific sectors, issued the following Joint Statement: “The time for ASEAN to prove its collective strength to mitigate the worst impacts of the on-going pandemic and ensure the long-term prosperity and wellness of its people through fast action is now. Decisiveness and resolve towards swift and effective planning and execution of measures for a post-pandemic economic recovery are of utmost priority.”

The Joint Statement called for a High-Level Special Commission tasked by the ASEAN Leaders to recommend a recovery plan. That plan that would improve the response to the current and future pandemics and ensure that ASEAN comes out stronger, more integrated
and better able to respond to global challenges and opportunities. That Commission would seek input from various stakeholders, including a Special Business Advisory Board.

There are several reasons why ASEAN and foreign businesses called for a Special Commission. Post-pandemic economic recovery will not be easy and the “new normal” will require novel approaches. COVID-19 is going to alter how we live, work and play and, therefore, transform our economies and the nature of competition.

We will see increased digitisation and automation of everything. We will see significant shifts in supply chains as businesses look to diversify the sources of essential components away from single locations. We will see an urgent and more profound need to reskill workers and adapt current educational practices for the new paradigms. Environmental sustainability, inclusion and shared prosperity will be paramount. With the right enabling environment, ASEAN should be well-placed to succeed, given its young and adaptable population, high urbanisation rates, high levels of internet penetration and its geographical location.

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The Business Times

4 June 2020

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