KUALA LUMPUR – On 15 October, CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) hosted a CARI Briefings webinar under its COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan Series, titled ‘How Can ASEAN Bounce Back: A US Perspective’.
The session featured Ambassador Michael W. Michalak, Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director of the US-ASEAN Business Council, and Kawal Preet, President of the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa (AMEA) region at FedEx Express.
Moderated by Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of CARI, the discussion was centred on ASEAN’s post-COVID economic recovery through building upon the present bilateral trade ties between ASEAN and the United States, how American global supply chains are expected to shift post-COVID-19 and how ASEAN can leverage upon this for its own 4IR transformation, and ultimately how US interests coincide with ASEAN integration efforts and how both partners can collaborate in this regard.
During the discussion Tan Sri Dr. Munir emphasized that ASEAN must expedite its institutional decision-making process if it is to save lives and to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic faster and stronger.
The speakers commended Pathway 225 proposals (A Pathway Towards Recovery and Hope for Asean) particularly on setting up the High-Level Special Commission, precisely to improve decision-making at this most challenging of times.
The discussion also centred around supporting MSME recovery to increase their competitiveness. MSMEs have been hardest hit and need all the help available to them. Financial assistance from governments gave MSMEs a lifeline, but those who embraced digital tools thrived.
The panelists also discussed how the pandemic is an opportunity for ASEAN governments to encourage and facilitate e-commerce to support the MSMEs.
Tan Sri Dr. Munir opened the session by observing that the ASEAN region enters a new decade defined primarily by uncertainty, as the world continues to grapple with the global pandemic which has exacerbated global trade frictions.
According to the World Bank’s projection in April 2020, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar are expected to register economic growth of between 2.1%-4.9%, while Malaysia and Thailand would experience contractions of between 4.6% and 5.0% respectively. Separately, the UNCTAD projected that foreign direct investments (FDI) into developing Asia would decline by up to 45% in 2020.1
Tan Sri Dr. Munir pointed that for the open economies of ASEAN, strengthening trade relations with its key partners; including the United States, will play a key role in the region’s recovery. For context, he observes that US merchandise trade with ASEAN between 2009 and 2019 jumped from US$149 billion to US$295 billion.
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