Singapore, May 14 – The private sector urged ASEAN governments to provide well-structured regional channels to provide real sectoral input to policy makers in order to realize the vision of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The sentiment is strongly reflected by over 300 leading regional corporate leaders and policy makers attending the 3rd Annual ASEAN Business Club Forum with the theme “Road to ASEAN Integration” here in Singapore.

President of the ASEAN Business Club (ABC), Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid, said that although the governments have received and acknowledged various recommendations provided by the private sector, the messages are often lost in the swirl of innumerable meetings in ASEAN.

“I believe the way forward is to have a structured private sector participation in the discussion and implementation process – if we would be allowed. Among the recommendations we have submitted to ASEAN leaders, two recommendations are of paramount importance – the Financial Services and Capital Markets Expert Group (FSCM-EG), and the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Growth Bank – both will have crucial impact on trade in ASEAN,” said Dr. Munir.

It is proposed that the expert group for the financial sector to be embedded in the ASEAN secretariat and funded by the private sector.

“The ASEAN Secretariat needs to be better resourced in order to be fully effective, both financially and in the form of expertise. The private sector must help and its help must be welcomed. Otherwise the integration process will remain fragmented,” said Dato’ Seri Nazir Razak, Chairman of CIMB Group who chaired of the Financial Services and Capital Markets Roundtable at the forum.

The keynote address was delivered by the Chair of ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting 2015 Hon. Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, also the Minister of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia. “ASEAN leaders must demonstrate greater political will and move forward with economic integration to balance ASEAN’s potential as a competitive economic region,” said Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed.

In his welcome speech, ABC Forum 2015 Chairman, U Thura Ko Ko stresses the full potential and strength of the ASEAN economies as a whole if economic integration was fully realised.

“Collectively, the ASEAN economic region is increasingly recognised as a major global economic and trading powerhouse but that more needed to be done to bring the benefits of economic integration to the region’s SME’s and micro enterprises who are so critical to creating opportunities, employment and inclusive prosperity across all our citizens.”

The forum attracted over 50 speakers and leaders from 14 countries to brainstorm ways to chart ASEAN’s future. Mrs. Josephine Teo, Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport from Singapore, Malaysian Senator Dato’ Sri Idris Jala and Datuk Rebecca Sta. Maria, Secretary General of Ministry of International Trade and Industry Malaysia were among the policy makers and regulators who spoke at the forum.

The forum also saw an impressive participation of chief executives from over 215 regional corporations including DBS Group, ZICO Holdings Inc, Bank of the Philippine Islands, Park Hotel Group, KBZ Bank, CIMB Group, AirAsia, Johnson & Johnson, AECOM, KPJ Healthcare, Jetstar, AirAsia, China-ASEAN Investment Corporation Fund, Asian Development Bank Institute, Clifford Capital, Tesco Malaysia, UK Trade and Investment, Banpu of Thailand, Serge Pun Group, NEC Corporation, Zalora Southeast Asia, and many more.

For a third year running, the forum addresses sector-based issues at a set of Lifting-the-barriers (LTB) roundtables. Each sector is chaired by a regional industry player or expert group and paired with a leading research partner. To date, the LTB initiative yielded 13 reports covering 11 sectors, which identified the gaps hindering ASEAN integration, and recommendations to overcome them. The focused sectors this year are namely, 1) Financial Services and Capital Markets, 2) Retail, 3) Tourism, 4) Air Transportation, 5) Healthcare, and 6) Infrastructure. A set of white papers of the focused sectors is expected to be published in the third quarter of this year. Independent research partners namely Frost & Sullivan, A.T. Kearney, Accenture, Economic Research Institute on ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), and ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA), Centre for International Law of National University of Singapore (NUS) contribute input to the entire exercise.

The ABC also inked a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) today to jointly launch a research grant programme aimed at providing actionable research on policies and business procedures to expand SME access to finance. The collaboration, called “Building Linkages: ASEAN SME Finance Research Program”, gained initial support from six participating member banks of the ABC, namely CIMB Bank, Bank Muamalat Malaysia, DBS of Singapore, Bank of Philippine Islands, KBZ Bank of Myanmar, and Citibank of Singapore.

“We know that entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful ways to unlock economic potential and lift people out of poverty to create a more secure and prosperous future for all,” said Dr. Michael Yates, director of the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia. “That’s why we are pleased to partner with the ASEAN Business Club to promote an environment where small businesses can more easily access finance for growth to help them thrive in an integrated ASEAN Economic Community.”

The signing was witnessed by Hon. Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohd and Blair Hall, Deputy Chief Of Mission, US Embassy Singapore, together with chief executives of participating banks.

The ABC Forum 2015 ended with its fifth annual Gala dinner held alongside the forum, featuring a keynote address on the topic “Why I believe in ASEAN” by accomplished Singaporean diplomat – HE Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry Foreign Affairs, Singapore.

The ABC forum 2015 is sponsored by CIMB Group, AirAsia Berhad, Straits Trading, GK Goh Holdings, Bank Of Philippine Islands, Ayala Corporation, TPG Capital, Iskandar Waterfront Holdings and Zico Holdings. The 5th Gala Dinner was made possible by Silverlake Axis.