ASEAN industry captains to submit economic integration recommendations to governments

By China Daily Asia
Singapore – The CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) will publish and submit the findings from its inaugural Network ASEAN Forum (NAF) to policymakers and ASEAN governments.

The one-day forum saw some 300 participants and industry captains from the region such as Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Chairman of the Philippines’ Ayala Corporation; Budi Sadikin, CEO of Indonesia’s Bank Mandiri and Nazir Razak, Group Chief Executive of Malaysia’s CIMB Group, brainstorm solutions to obstacles in the way of ASEAN economic integration.

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam who delivered the NAF opener, said, “I’m optimistic because we know what the weaknesses are and their solutions, because we have a valuable asset in our openness and ability to cooperate and collaborate with each other as a region; and because of proactive private sector efforts such as the NAF, which seeks to work alongside ASEAN governments to realise our vision of an ASEAN Community.”

NAF Chairman and Managing Partner of Northstar Pacific Group, Indonesia, Patrick Walujo said that the NAF sent a clear message to the ASEAN public that the business community is committed to realize the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.

“This effort is dependent on public support and the gains certainly outweigh the pains. However, with less than a fifth of ASEAN businesses having made any plans for AEC 2015, it is abundantly clear that anyone in a position to make policy must make awareness a key consideration,” he added.

The concerns expressed in plenary sessions and six sector-specific roundtables followed a similar theme with participants expressing the need for the greater harmonisation of standards across the region. With their markets at differing levels of maturity and with policies that tend to lean towards protectionism, ASEAN remains largely fragmented.

The six sectors are Aviation, Capital Markets, Connectivity, Financial Services, Healthcare, and Infrastructure, Power & Utilities (IPU).

While resolving issues was a key consideration at the forum, NAF convenor and chair of the Capital Markets roundtable, Nazir Razak said the forum wanted to send a message to the governments of ASEAN member nations to prioritise and focus on achievable goals.

“Let’s get realistic about what’s really going to happen. We need to discuss some of the priority items we ought to do over the next 18 months and put together a roadmap for ASEAN,” he said.

Impetus for AEC also came from Zhang Lei, Founder & CEO of Hillhouse Capital Management, one of the world’s largest investment funds.

He said the region needed to be more consistent and robust in declaring its intentions if it is to lure investors like him.

“ASEAN needs a reliable and consistent message of opening up; something to make foreign investor feel there is a roadmap. It doesn’t matter what the current status is so long as we have a constancy of policy. That will be good for foreign investors,” he said at one of the NAF’s plenary sessions.

Zhang’s comments were echoed by participants at the Financial Services roundtable who urged regulators to be more proactive in discussions to liberalize the financial sector.

“It is my opinion that the financial services sector is one of the most regulated industries and that financial regulators are often the most powerful among industry regulators, very nationalistic and often, most conservative.

“In order to move forward towards regionalisation and meet the AEC 2015 deadline, the involvement of and communication between the respective ASEAN countries’ financial regulators is extremely critical,” said the co-chair of the Financial Services roundtable and CEO of Indonesia’s Bank Mandiri, Budi Sadikin.

Chairman of Ayala Corporation and IPU roundtable chair, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala cited a number of barriers to integration which included the lack of transparency, issues of nationalism in investment, and changing goalposts.

The region, he added, should explore the possibility of an ASEAN fund as a way to bring down nationalism issues and create a friendlier pool of funds for infrastructure projects.

The chair of the Healthcare roundtable, Dr Lim Cheok Peng, Managing Director of IHH Healthcare said industry players need to explore possibilities to address disparities between rich and poorer countries in ASEAN.

“Governments must lift barriers to allow for public private partnerships that will help raise healthcare standards, capabilities and capacity of healthcare professions as well as access to medication,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Group CEO and chair of Aviation roundtable said governments should open up airport infrastructure to private investors to meet growing passenger demand.

CEO of Indosat and the chair for the Connectivity roundtable, Alexander Rusli said the industry is now at a tipping point. With smartphones being so prevalent and consumers having many connectivity options, telcos across the region need to behave like a “single business unit” to ensure a seamless experience for its customers across ASEAN.

The inaugural NAF was organised by the CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI), a public organisation committed to the development of the ASEAN Economic Community. CARI is also the secretariat of the ASEAN Business Club, a coalition of private sector players committed to the ASEAN agenda.