China-ASEAN Monitor: Indonesia to restrict import of Chinese livestock over coronavirus concerns


Photo Credit: Free Malaysia Today

 

Economy, Investment and Trade

 

Indonesia to restrict import of Chinese livestock over coronavirus concerns
(4 February 2020) Indonesia’s government has announced that it intends to restrict the import of live animals from China due to the coronavirus outbreak. The government stressed that the restrictions would only apply to live animals, and not all food and beverages. Expecting an impact on tourism, the government also announced that it will encourage airlines to implement special rates for top tourism destinations such as Bali and the Riau Islands to attract tourists from other countries besides China. Indonesia will bar all flights to and from China starting on 5 February.
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Coronavirus expected to have much wider and deeper impact on the Singaporean economy
(3 February 2020) The Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry stated that he believes the impact of the coronavirus will have a “much wider and deeper impact” on the world economy than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, in part due to China’s larger economy and more extensive trade relations. Steps taken by the government include barring Chinese nationals from entering the country save some exceptions, as well as announcing the waive of licence fees for hotels, travel agents and tourist guides to cushion the impact on the tourism industry. The government is also studying the provision of temporary bridging loans for affected businesses.
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Thailand stands to lose US$64.6 million in exports to China in Q1 2020
(4 February 2020) Thailand stands to lose US$64.6 million in exports to China in the first quarter of 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus on global supply chains. This was stated by a Thai shipping association, which also claimed that the exports of fresh fruits and vegetables will be the worst affected. China was Thailand’s second-largest export market in 2019, with its market amounting to US$29.2 billion. The association has maintained its forecast for overall export growth of 0-1% in 2020, although the coronavirus is expected to cut shipments by 0.11%.
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Vietnam stock market plunges more than 6% after Lunar New Year
(5 February 2020) Vietnam’s benchmark VN Index dropped by more than 6% since January 30, when it was closed for the Lunar New Year, due to the coronavirus outbreak in China. It is the second-largest plunge in the world after China’s own bourse. The Vietnamese benchmark has been in a bear market since 2018 and is 23% away from a record high hit in April of that year. Vietnamese-Chinese connectivity has been impacted by the virus, with agricultural exports to China possibly impacted by the closing of land borders and travel restrictions. Vietnamese imports of textile products and machinery for its factories are also expected to be impacted.
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The Philippines to assist migrant workers affected by China travel bans
(4 February 2020) The Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) will provide around US$200 cash to overseas Filipino workers affected by the recent travel restrictions to China due to the coronavirus outbreak. On 2 February, an indefinite prohibition was imposed on Filipinos from travelling to China, Hong Kong, and Macau. The OWWA will also provide accommodation and transportation for the stranded workers. At least 300 Chinese nationals are also stranded in the Philippines.
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CARI Briefings on ASEAN 2020 Outlook and Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2020

Published on 5 February 2020

ASEAN Roundtable Series

CARI Viewpoint: ASEAN 2020 Chair should lead region on pressing global issues alongside world economic peace and intra-ASEAN trade

The CARI Briefing titled “ASEAN 2020 Outlook and Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2020″ featured presentations by Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of CARI and ASEAN-BAC Malaysia; and H.E. Dr. Le Quy Quynh, Ambassador of Vietnam to Malaysia.

 

1. Vietnam’s priorities for 2020


During his presentation, H.E. Dr. Quynh spoke of Vietnam’s theme and priority areas for the year. As unveiled by his government in Hanoi on 6 January, the ASEAN 2020 theme of “Cohesive and Responsive” will be centered on five priorities: 1) strengthening ASEAN unity and regional centrality, 2) intensifying economic integration, 3) promoting the ASEAN identity, 4) enhancing ASEAN’s global partnership for peace and stability, and 5) developing the bloc’s institutional capacity and effectiveness.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

ASEAN Roundtable Series

According to Dr. Quynh, the theme of cohesiveness meant the need to enhance ASEAN unity and solidarity, economic integration, ASEAN awareness and identity and efforts towards creating a “people-centered” community. As for the theme of responsiveness, Vietnam would like to promote ASEAN proactiveness, creativity and capacity in grasping opportunities and coping with challenges. Among the challenges ahead include the uneven implications from the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the escalation of traditional security issues, the rise of non-traditional security threats and the strategic competition between major powers.

 

2. Leveraging upon ASEAN unity and solidarity on the international stage

With the many challenges facing ASEAN, one of Vietnam’s focus for ASEAN in 2020 is unity and solidarity. Under this priority area, Vietnam intends to forge close relations among ASEAN Member States and respond effectively to challenges and threats, said Dr. Quynh.

Tan Sri Munir asserted that ASEAN needs to work through its Member States’ individual membership in prominent international avenues in order to have a louder voice on the global stage. According to him, ASEAN countries already have representation at the G20 meetings. Indonesia is a firm member of G20, Singapore is usually invited to the G20 through the Forum of Small States (FOSS) and in 2020, Malaysia, as the chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), is invited to the G20 meetings as an observer.

“ASEAN needs to work together now and prepare the groundwork for the position it is going to take in these meetings.”

While ASEAN has performed well in terms of GDP growth in this decade (it became the fifth-largest economy in the world in 2018 ), its share of intra-ASEAN trade in goods has remained below 25% in the last 10 years. The number of non-tariff measures (NTMs) has increased as well. The cost of intra-ASEAN trade should be brought down in line with the reduction in the number of NTMs, he said.

In 2018 ASEAN has risen to fifth place among the largest economies in the world, with nominal GDP estimated at USD 3.0 trillion, an increase of more than 50% from its 2010 level

ASEAN Roundtable Series

ASEAN Roundtable Series

Between 2008 and 2018, the total number of NTMs imposed by ASEAN jumped by 118.8%, from 4,356 measures in 2008 to 9,502 in 2019.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

 

3. Equally important issues for ASEAN to address – the environment and sustainability


Aside from the essential, key issues of multilateral trading system, the promotion of intra-ASEAN trade and efforts to reduce the number of NTMs, Tan Sri Munir highlighted other issues the regional bloc has failed to deal with in any vigorous fashion: the environment and equitable development.

“ASEAN has shown a surprising lack of attention to the environment, particularly when it has experienced the transboundary haze issue for many, many years now. ASEAN must begin to address these issues for its own sake. The topic that is frequently discussed has always been growth, economy and investment. Issues like the quality of life of the ASEAN people, their income level and the environment has not received the same amount of attention,” he said.

He added that the haze has been going on for a generation. Has ASEAN been able to stand up and talk about the environment and other business? This is disgraceful. Are we waiting for August to come again this year and go through the whole thing again?” he added.

He added that the haze has been going on for a generation and it is a regret that ASEAN could not resolve this annual problem. The cost of the haze in 2019 on the Indonesian economy according to World Bank estimates was US$5.2 billion. This amount is equivalent to 0.5% of the Indonesian economy and caused US$157 million in direct damages and US$5.0 billion in losses from affected economic activities. He further pointed out that these figures, however, do not include the economic cost to other affected ASEAN countries, as well as the cost to health. ASEAN must make the effort to address the haze, be it at the bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral level, or risk it happening again this year.

Another issue vital for ASEAN is equitable development. The rise of anti-globalisation sentiments around the world in the form of large scale protests are due to many factors including income disparity and inequitable growth. Tan Sri Munir stressed that if the disparities between ASEAN countries, and within ASEAN countries continue without being addressed, ASEAN could face the possibility of political upheaval.

One political issue that ASEAN cannot afford to avoid, however, is security in the South China Sea. According to H.E. Dr. Quynh, the South China Sea is a peaceful region that is crucial to not only ASEAN countries but other countries such as the EU, Japan and South Korea as well. Any conflict in the South China Sea will affect trade between ASEAN and other countries. He opines that it is a good timing for Vietnam to be the chair of ASEAN as it also holds a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Dr. Quynh pointed that the areas that Vietnam would also pursue the sustainability agenda in the form of the circular economy, and the Digital Integration Index.

“Sustainability is important for Vietnam. Our GDP growth was 7% last year, we can achieve more but we need to focus on sustainability,” he said. Under the fourth priority of enhancing ASEAN’s global partnership for peace and stability, Vietnam will promote partnerships for sustainable development. The country also intends to create a platform that would allow the sharing of best practices in the circular economy and develop the Digital Integration Index to monitor and improve the effectiveness of areas under the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework, which was endorsed at the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore in December 2018 and had its action plan adopted at the 35th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in November 2019.

 

Conclusion


The year 2020 marks the mid-term mark of the ASEAN Community’s Master Plan 2015-2025 and ASEAN Vision 2025. It also marks 25 years of Vietnam’s participation in ASEAN. How Vietnam goes about implementing the priorities the country has laid out for its chairmanship will have much bearing on the direction of the regional bloc going forward. One of the priorities, which aims to strengthen ASEAN’s institutional capacity bears much promise but it is not without its challenges. Nevertheless, if ASEAN-led mechanisms and processes could be made more efficient and outcome-driven through institutional reform and improvements of rules and procedures, ASEAN could fully realise its economic potential.

CARI Captures 439: Bank Indonesia working to stabilise financial markets over coronavirus outbreak



 

INDONESIA

Bank Indonesia working to stabilise financial markets over coronavirus outbreak
(30 January 2020) Indonesia’s central bank is working towards stabilising financial markets in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak in China. Although the effects on the real economy have yet to be felt, the financial market has been impacted. The coronavirus outbreak has seen foreign investors of Indonesian government bonds turn into net sellers, selling off almost US$564 million worth of government bonds in three days through 29 January. The local currency has also come under pressure this week, trimming gains this year to 1.5%. The governor of Bank Indonesia Perry Warjiyo stated that monetary policy remains accommodative, though the bank has other instruments it can use besides interest rates, such as reserve requirements or injecting more liquidity.

SINGAPORE

Singaporean economy may be impacted by coronavirus outbreak but diversified enough to mitigate uncertainty
(30 January 2020) While the coronavirus outbreak will cause economic uncertainty to escalate, the Singaporean economy remains diversified enough to withstand it, said Singaporean Manpower Minister Josephine Teo. She admitted that “investment decisions are bound to be reexamined” as the virus causes global economic uncertainty to be heightened, but pointed out that the economic contributions of affected sectors such as tourism and hospitality are “relatively modest.” She added that the current circumstances are “significantly different” than during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic and said that while no one knows how long the health crisis will last, it is unlikely to persist. “It will not be business as usual because we know businesses have to take more precautions than before, but life must somehow go on, businesses must operate, workers must still be able to go to work,” she said.

THE PHILIPPINES

Coronavirus outbreak expected to have a negative impact on Philippines economic growth
(29 January 2020) The coronavirus outbreak is projected to have a negative effect on the Philippines economy, according to a report released by a global bank. The drop in economic activity in China due to the virus is expected to affect Asian economies dependent on Chinese trade and tourism channels. The report stated that a 75% decline in the number of visitors and tourists from China in three months could cut 0.11 percentage points off the annual Philippines economic growth since Chinese nationals account for 20.9% of total foreign arrivals in the country. Meanwhile, a 20% drop in imports from China could slash Philippine economic growth by 0.08%. The report predicted however, that any effect on Philippine financial markets would be short-lived.

THAILAND

Bank of Thailand asks banks and non-bank financial institutions to soften credit rules
(30 January 2020) The Bank of Thailand has requested banks and non-bank financial institutions to temporarily lower credit rules to help debtors affected by the coronavirus outbreak in China. Among the requests made to institutions under their supervision included temporarily lowering the minimum amount due on credit cards to below 10% of the outstanding balance and loosening the ceiling for personal loan credit lines in the case of emergency. Other requests to these lenders included offering additional working capital and cutting or waiving interest rates, and easing debt repayment requirements. The relaxation, aimed at alleviating impacts from the deadly virus among affected borrowers, will run through the end of 2020, said Ronadol Numnonda, deputy governor for financial institutions stability. Two of Thailand’s largest banks, Kasikornbank (KBank) and Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), launched the relief measures on 29 January for their debtors affected by the virus outbreak.

CAMBODIA

Cambodian economy projected to grow 7.1% in 2020
(29 January 2020) Cambodia’s economy is projected to reach 7.1% in 2020, supported by robust construction activities, strong domestic credit growth and buoyant domestic demand, according to the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO). Inflation is expected to increase to 2.3% in 2020, a slight increase from 2.1% in 2020, AMRO said in a statement released on 29 January. It added that Cambodia’s major external vulnerabilities will stem from its high reliance on a few markets, particularly the European market. If the European Union (EU) suspends the Everything but Arms (EBA) trade scheme from Cambodia, the country’s exports will be affected. The country’s export to the EU in 2018 was valued at US$5.86 billion, out of which 95% entered the EU duty-free under the EBA trade scheme, EU data showed. The Cambodian government announced in March 2019 a number of measures that included lowering logistics and production costs and cutting red tape to support local manufacturers and exporters in case the EU withdrew the EBA preferences.

VIETNAM

Vietnam expects US$100 million trade deficit in January
(30 January 2020) Vietnam’s trade balance is expected to slip into a deficit of US$100 million in January, from a surplus of US$259 million in December 2019, according to preliminary government data. Exports in January are expected to fall 14.3% from a year earlier to US$19 billion, while imports are forecasted to slump 11.3% to US$19.1 billion, the General Statistics Office said in a statement. The US remained the largest buyer of Vietnamese goods, purchasing US$4.8 billion in January, followed by China and the EU with US$3.7 billion and US$2.6 billion, respectively. Vietnamese exports to ASEAN and Japan were both at US$1.6 billion while exports to South Korea totalled US$1.3 billion. China was the largest source of Vietnam’s imports, with an estimated US$6.2 billion in January, followed by South Korea and ASEAN at US$3.2 billion and US$2.4 billion, respectively.

INDONESIA

Indonesia’s investment realisation exceeded its set target for 2019
(29 January 2020) Indonesia’s investment realisation in 2019 has exceeded its target to reach US$59.3 billion during the January-December period, according to Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) head Bahlil Lahadalia. The amount of investment realised in the fourth quarter of 2019 (October to December 2019) reached US$15.2 billion, marking an increase of 12% from the corresponding period in 2018. Foreign investment during the fourth quarter of 2019 increased 6.4% to US$7.7 billion while domestic investment increased 18.5% to US$7.5 billion as compared to the same period in 2018. Investment in Java Island in the fourth quarter of 2019 increased 3.2% to reach US$7.7 billion, while investment in the regions outside of Java Island rose 22.6% to US$7.6 billion as compared to the same period in 2018. Lahadalia said that investment outside of Java Island should be increased further to encourage equalisation of the economy in the country.

THAILAND, LAOS

Thailand and Laos aim to double bilateral trade to around US$11 billion by 2021
(27 January 2020) Thailand and Laos aim to nearly double bilateral trade from US$5.9 billion in 2016 to around $11.0 billion by 2021, according to Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of Thailand’s Trade Negotiations Department. In 2018, bilateral trade amounted to US$6.73 billion, increasing by 9.21% over 2017 with Thailand enjoying a trade surplus. Thai exports to Laos in 2018 amounted to US$4.12 billion, while Thai imports amounted to US$2.61 billion. Thailand and Laos intend to hold a meeting on 25-26 February to promote cooperation in trade and investment. The ministerial-level meeting will be held between the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand and the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Laos in Bangkok. Laos is currently Thailand’s 21st-largest trading partner and eighth-largest trading partner within ASEAN.

MALAYSIA, BRUNEI

Malaysia eyes 20% increase in Bruneian tourist arrivals in 2020, despite the spread of Wuhan coronavirus
(30 January 2020) Malaysia has set a target of 1.5 million tourist arrivals from Brunei in 2020, exceeding its 1.2 million annual average, according to Tourism Malaysia’s Brunei office Director Hj Ibrahim Seddiqi Talib. Bruneians spent US$1.16 billion in Malaysia in 2019, a 3% increase compared to 2018, Tourism Malaysia statistics showed. In 2018, Malaysia registered US$1.12 billion in tourism receipts from Bruneians. Estimates show each Brunei resident spent an average of US$2,755 in Malaysia in 2019. Malaysia is a popular destination for Bruneians due to its proximity and favourable currency exchange. Tourism Malaysia data showed that Brunei continues to be the fifth-largest source of tourist arrivals in Malaysia from January to September 2019, with 929,789 arrivals. The top four countries were Singapore with 7.9 million arrivals; Indonesia with 2.8 million, followed by China and Thailand with 2.3 million and 1.4 million arrivals respectively. Hj Ibrahim said he does not expect tourist arrivals from ASEAN countries to be affected by the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak as the source of the epidemic is China’s central city of Wuhan in Hubei province.

THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines goes live on ASEAN Single Window platform
(25 January 2020) The Philippines has officially joined the live operations of the ASEAN Single Window (ASW), according to the Department of Finance (DOF). The Bureau of Customs, along with its Export Coordination Division (ECD) and Export Divisions in three pilot ports, are now issuing the electronic Certificate of Origin (eCO). The ASW officially went online in the Philippines on 30 December 2019 using the country’s National Single Window (NSW), or the TRADENET.gov.ph platform. Finance Undersecretary Gil S. Beltran said going live on the ASW “lowers communication costs to as low as 10% of the original amount and encourages small enterprises to take advantage of preferential tariffs under ATIGA (ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement).” The Philippines’ NSW, called TRADENET, will be connected and integrated to the NSWs of the other ASEAN members to expedite cargo clearance and promote regional integration.

New Chair of ASEAN: Don’t Hold Your Breath



New Chair of ASEAN: Don’t Hold Your Breath
Originally published in TheEdge Malaysia, 27 January – 2 February 2020.

Every year, in alphabetical order, a member state takes over as chair of ASEAN. Thailand last year, Vietnam this year, Brunei next.

Vietnam has launched its chairmanship of ASEAN based on the theme “cohesive and responsive.” These themes have become par for the course. The test is whether there is actually action against challenges that confront ASEAN and whether ASEAN is pro-active in addressing disturbing global trends.

In Hanoi on 6 January, on launching its chairmanship, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc offered stirring words about thinking, acting and sharing community values, and about there being no more enduring quality than unity of the hearts.

Hardened businessmen would want more than that. At the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) meeting in Hanoi on 9 January, a specific Vietnam legacy project to promote ASEAN digital stars was pronounced. Good objective, the sixth in the series of specific legacy projects that I had started when Malaysia was chair of ASEAN in 2015.

The one we are driving – AFIS (ASEAN Financial Inclusion Solutions) – will be promoted further this year when we meet the finance ministers and central bank governors in March. It took ASEAN-BAC four years just to get to have a dialogue with them.

We are looking at promoting digital products for use by consumers, savers and investors across ASEAN borders, not an easy task, given how financial market sovereignty is most stubbornly defended.

But the power of technology will win in the end. Not just in the financial field but also in other areas such as healthcare, smart cities, logistics and trade facilitation.

Barriers to trade, however, are increasing. As tariffs come down, non-tariff barriers and measures (NTBs/NTMs) are going up. In 2015, when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was declared, there were less than 6,000. Now they have shot up to about 10,000.

Vietnam must show true leadership in 2020 to get a handle on this before it makes utter nonsense of the AEC, the single market and production base that was promised with much ceremony in 2015.

At a symposium on intra-ASEAN trade and investment in Hanoi on 10 January, a proposal was put forward that a specific body be set up to take on the issue of NTBs/NTMs and not leave it at the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Joint Consultative Committee (ATF/JCC) officials level.

This is something that Vietnam should push to be taken up by ASEAN.

The biggest challenge in Vietnam’s chairmanship year, however, is to get ASEAN to act together against disturbing global trends: dissembling of the free trade regime and a rules-based economic order, major powers acting with impunity in matters affecting international peace and security, such as the US in the Middle East, and China in the South China Sea.

ASEAN must stand up and be counted. Unity of the hearts is one thing, but proving commitment to world order in trade or security, as well as voicing desire for it is quite another. ASEAN must come out and be an exemplar even if it cannot determine how the big powers would act.

In 2020, therefore, Vietnam should provide leadership to show ASEAN’s commitment in practice to free trade and a rules-based order, and to voice a single ASEAN position for world economic peace in forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the G-20, where ASEAN is well-represented but has not got its act together.

The thing is, ASEAN is doing well economically relative to the rest of the world (see charts) that it does not think enough about how it could be doing better – or what could happen if the music stopped.





​​The ASEAN economy has consistently outperformed the global economy. The region’s GDP growth has remained close to 5 % since 2011, while global GDP stayed below 4% over the same period.

ASEAN celebrates being a US$3 trillion (RM12.2 trillion) economy, the fifth-largest in the world. But that is on an aggregated basis. Just imagine if it was truly one economy. The leverage of that single platform would generate greater internal regional growth while also propelling ASEAN in trade and investment with extra-regional economies.





​​In 2018, ASEAN received US$154.7 billion or 11.9% of total global FDI inflows, the highest in its history, ranking third after the EU and the US

ASEAN is excited by the prospect of an additional US$1 trillion to its economy from greater application of new technologies by 2025, based on a projection in 2016 by a leading consulting firm, but it does not give enough attention to harmonisation of regulations and allowing free service flows in Industry 4.0.

Indeed, the other side of the challenge of the new economy – upskilling and reskilling – must be addressed in tandem if displacement of employment is not to become a grave regional social problem.

Employment can be protected, of course, by putting up barriers (which ASEAN has been showing a propensity to do) but that would mean continued inefficiency, which in the end, will leave the protected country and economy behind – thereby widening disparities that will undermine national and regional cohesion.

ASEAN has not taken on board the lessons to be learnt from the alienation and political tumult in developed countries caused by disparities experienced by the underserved in society, from the rise of tribalism (racism) and anti-globalism.

ASEAN must stop looking at economic growth alone. It has to carve policies from now to anticipate employment and social stresses that can undermine the regional idea, not to mention national integrity.

The issue of sustainable development and environmental protection must be vigorously addressed now before it gets too late. It is disgraceful that the so-called haze, which has blanketed countries in the region (for a whole generation!) was not even mentioned at the last ASEAN summit in Bangkok.

Have we to wait for the smog to come again next August?

ASEAN therefore, cannot be smug because its economies are doing relatively well, as the music could stop, and because there are social and environmental issues to address.

Vietnam would do well to take the lead in bringing attention to these existential matters.

More than that, ASEAN leaders must show leadership, give instruction, and take a handle on ASEAN’s direction, instead of going through the ritual year in and year out of summits and statements prepared well in advance by officials for them to adopt.

ASEAN leaders should look closely at Article 32 of the ASEAN Charter, which clearly gives a mandate to the chair to pursue the ASEAN interest in the fullest sense, give the chair their full support, actively inject their ideas and make sure there is meaningful content in ASEAN activities in the year ahead.

Without their active involvement and support, ASEAN will, year after year, not fulfill its full promise, and could be storing big, explosive problems in the years ahead.

Mekong Monitor: Border trade in Vietnam and Myanmar affected by dwindling border crossings


Photo credit: Reuters

 

TRADE, ECONOMY, AND INVESTMENT

 

MYANMAR, VIETNAM

Border trade in Vietnam and Myanmar affected by dwindling border crossings
(29 January 2020) Border towns in Myanmar and Vietnam dependent on cross-border trade and tourism with China have started to be affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. A border official at the Lao Cai border crossing stated that permissions for Chinese tourists to cross were suspended effective 27 January 2020. The Mong Cai border crossing in Quang Ninh Province only saw 3,379 Chinese tourists cross during the Lunar New Year, down by 38% from the same period in 2019. Quang Ninh province as a whole just saw 6,700 Chinese tourists arrive during the holidays, compared to the 45,000 tourists over the same period last year. In Myanmar, it was reported that border crossings to China had declined significantly since the confirmation of coronavirus cases in Yunnan.
Read more>>

MYANMAR

Myanmar received over 4.36 million foreign visitors in 2019
(29 January 2020) Myanmar received over 4.36 million foreign visitors in 2019, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. The ministry also recently announced granting visa-on-arrivals to ordinary passport holders from certain countries for a three-year probation period lasting until 31 December 2022. These countries included Austria, Hungary, and New Zealand. In addition, visa-exemption days were extended to 30 days for Vietnamese tourists in Myanmar starting from 1 January 2020.
Read more>>

MYANMAR

Singaporean sovereign wealth fund to buy 20% stake in Myanmar’s Yoma Bank
(29 January 2020) Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte intends to buy 20% of Myanmar’s Yoma Bank Ltd for US$88.7 million. The Yoma Bank chief executive officer stated that the bank will benefit from the experience GIC can bring. Yoma Bank was founded by local tycoon Serge Pun in 1993 and is one of Myanmar’s largest lenders, with 80 branches in the country. Its existing shareholders include the World Bank’s investment arm International Finance Corp (IFC). Myanmar’s banking sector opened to foreign investors in January 2019, attracting foreign investors interested in serving the country’s large underbanked population.
Read more>>

THAILAND

Thai stocks drop most since 2016 after China bans outbound group tours
(30 January 2020) Thai stocks have dipped the most since 2016 on fears of economic turbulence after China banned outbound group tours in light of the coronavirus outbreak. The SET index slid 2.9%, with tourism-related shares among those bearing the brunt of the drop. The baht also weakened in line with emerging-market currencies over concerns of a fallout from the virus. In 2019, Chinese nationals spent almost US$18 billion in Thailand, composing around a quarter of all foreign tourism receipts. As of 26 January, Thailand has confirmed eight cases, with five already discharged.
Read more>>

THAILAND

Thailand ranked sixth destination where Chinese tourists prefer to use mobile payments
(29 January 2020) Thailand ranked sixth out of top 10 countries where Chinese tourists prefer to use mobile payments, according to a recent report by Nielsen and Alipay. The report surveyed 4,837 Chinese travellers, and found Southeast Asia was the leader in mobile payment usage by Chinese tourists. Singapore ranked number one, with 77% of Chinese tourists in Singapore using mobile payments for transactions. The total amount spent by Chinese tourists increased by 14% in Singapore and Thailand between 2018 and 2019.
Read more>>

 


mekong-monitor-map

About Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Programme was launched by the Asian Development Bank in 1992 connecting five developing ASEAN countries, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand, and Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region. The region has some of the most robust economies sharing the Mekong River Basin thanks to its reform and liberalisation. The subregion is growing at a faster pace than the whole of East Asia and the Asia Pacific as the GDP growth rate for 2017 was at 6.4 percent, according to the World Bank. The population at the subregion as of 2016 is at 340 million while the GDP at PPP is at US$3.1 trillion in 2016. In 2015, trading within the region was at US$444 billion.

China-ASEAN Monitor: Coronavirus hits tourism sectors of Southeast Asian countries


Photo Credit: Nikkei Asian Review

 

Economy, Investment and Trade

 

Coronavirus hits tourism sectors of Southeast Asian countries
(27 January 2020) China’s implementation of a ban on outbound tour groups due to the outbreak of the coronavirus has affected the tourism industry in ASEAN countries which rely primarily on Chinese holidaymakers. With nearly 27% of Thailand’s tourist arrivals coming from China and tourism contributing over 20% to the Thai GDP, the travel ban has hit the industry hard. In Indonesia, Bali is bracing for the effect of the travel ban even though the country has not had any cases of coronavirus yet. The island welcomed 1.1 million Chinese tourists in the 11 months ended in November 2019, representing 20% of all arrivals during that period and almost twice the full-year total in 2014. Cambodia is also preparing for the effect of the coronavirus on its tourism sector. The country welcomed 5.3 million international visitors in the first 10 months of 2019 and out of these, 38% were from China.
Read more>>

Southeast Asian countries remain in contact with constituents in Wuhan
(27 January 2020) Several Southeast Asian countries are in contact with their constituents who are currently in Wuhan, China and are making preparations for possible evacuation. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on 27 January said he had ordered an aircraft to remain on standby for the possible evacuation of Thai nationals who wished to return home. The Philippine government said it is in contact with 150 Filipinos in Wuhan and according to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, there were 428 Indonesians in Wuhan; 1,280 were in Beijing; and 849 in Shanghai. The respective governments are in contact with their constituents and have advised them to follow the advice of the health authorities in their areas. Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced on 29 January that his government is in discussion with the Chinese government on the possible evacuation of Malaysians who are not ill. There are currently 78 Malaysians stranded in Wuhan.
Read more>>

iQiyi launches Qisubo streaming service in Myanmar
(22 January 2020) Chinese online video platform iQiyi has launched its “Qisubo” streaming service in Myanmar, in partnership with local operator Myanmar Broadband Telecom (MBT) and optimisation services provider Panabit. MBT customers can now view content in 1080P and 4K quality using the iQiyi App via the Qisubo platform. The Qisubo service will be available throughout 14 major cities in the country. iQiyi first launched its international services through the iQiyi app in June 2019 and established a strategic partnership with Myanmar’s neighbour Malaysia through media brand Astro in November 2019.
Read more>>

Laos eyes sale of 500,000 cattle to China
(23 January 2020) Laos is currently seeking ways to boost the annual sale of locally-reared cattle to over 500,000 animals, which is the number required by Yunnan province in China. According to Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, China has opened its markets to Lao products including vegetables, fruits, rice and animals however, Laos has been unable to meet the cattle demand. He advised the National Institute for Economic Research to focus on livestock farming in order to increase the number of animals raised and also recommended that the farming of goats, sheep and other animals should be studied and analysed. Figures from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce showed that Laos earned about US$36.6 million from the export of cattle and buffaloes in 2017 and the figure hit US$69.5 million in the first 10 months of 2018. Exports to China increased from US$8.73 million in 2017 to US$9.77 million in the first 10 months of 2018.
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ASEAN stands to gain from US-China Phase One trade deal, AMRO says
(20 January 2020) The ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) has upgraded its 2020 growth forecast for ASEAN+3 nations by 0.2 percentage points to 4.9%, just one month after its previous prediction of 4.7%. The macroeconomic watchdog upgraded its growth forecast in view of the recent signing of the Phase One trade deal between the US and China. According to AMRO, the ASEAN+3 countries stand to gain from trade diversions, in the interim. Vietnam and Malaysia were highlighted as the two countries in prime positions to attract more investments and trading activity. However, to fully reap these benefits, AMRO advises a mixture of structural, macroprudential, fiscal and monetary policies to prevent financial imbalances and enhance growth.
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CARI Captures 438: IMF trims growth forecast for ASEAN-5 countries due to sluggish exports



 

ASEAN

IMF trims growth forecast for ASEAN-5 countries due to sluggish exports
(21 January 2020) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has trimmed its growth forecast for the ASEAN-5 countries by 0.1% for both 2020 and 2021, amid continued weak export figures. The ASEAN-5 countries, composing of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand, are now expected to grow by 4.8% and 5.1% respectively. The IMF has also revised its growth figures for the global economy for 2019, now believing it grew by 2.9% (another decrease of 0.1%). According to the organisation, global growth is projected to rise to 3.3% in 2020 and 3.4% in 2021.

ASEAN

Tourist arrivals to ASEAN in 2019 record 5% growth
(21 January 2020) Tourist arrivals to ASEAN recorded a 5% growth in 2019, exceeding the global average of 4%, according to the ASEAN Economic Community deputy secretary-general Dr. Aladdin D. Rillo. The region recorded a total of 133 million international arrivals in 2019, with intra-ASEAN arrivals making up 36.7% of the total arrivals. This was revealed during the conclusion of the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum 2020 in Brunei, where ministers convened to discuss efforts in making ASEAN a single tourism destination. Also discussed were efforts in making ASEAN tourism more sustainable and inclusive.

VIETNAM

EU’s Committee on International Trade agree on EU-Vietnam free trade deal
(21 January 2020) The European Union (EU)’s Committee on International Trade voted in favour of the free trade and investment protection agreements between the EU and Vietnam on 21 January. The agreement will remove almost all tariffs between both parties in ten years, protect emblematic European products, and allow European access to the Vietnamese public procurement market. The agreement also contains legally-binding rules on environmental protections and labour rights. Vietnam is the EU’s second-largest trading partner in Southeast Asia.

THAILAND

Thailand’s exports fall by 2.7% y-o-y in 2019 due to external uncertainties
(23 January 2020) Thailand’s exports fell by 2.7% in 2019 year-on-year due to the global economic slowdown, weak agricultural prices, and decreasing exports of major industrial products. Imports also dropped by 4.7% in the same year, and Thailand’s trade surplus for the year was US$9.6 billion. Thai exports to the US and China in December 2019 recorded y-o-y growth of 15.6% and 7.3% respectively. The Commerce Ministry stated that exports are likely to improve in the future as the impact of external factors start to “neutralise.”

THAILAND

Central banks of Thailand and Hong Kong mull issuing digital currencies for cross-border payments
(22 January 2020) The central banks of Thailand and Hong Kong have stated that they are moving towards issuing digital currencies to help facilitate cross-border payments between both countries. A report issued by the two banks discussed the technical feasibility of using central bank digital currencies (CBDC) to make cross-border payments more efficient and cheaper. The report also looked into practical issues such as foreign exchange pricing and its impact on liquidity. No timeframe has been set yet for a real transaction.

MALAYSIA

Non-financial institutions among those keen to apply for digital banking licences in Malaysia
(23 January 2020) Grab, Razer, AirAsia Group Bhd, and Axiata Group Bhd are among those looking to apply for digital banking licences in Malaysia. According to an international news wire, some of the firms were in discussions with consultancies on the possibilities of venturing into digital banking. In December 2019, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) announced that it would issue up to five licences to new online banks offering either conventional or Islamic banking under a proposed licencing framework that is scheduled to be finalised by June 2020. Based on BNM’s exposure draft revealed last December, digital banks have to maintain minimum capital funds unimpaired by losses of RM100 million (US$25 million) during the foundational phase and thereafter, the sum must be increased to RM300 million (US$74 million).

THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines’ economic growth seen to hit 6.1% in 2020
(22 January 2020) The Philippine economy is projected to grow 6.1% this year, according to an IHS Markit economist. The figure is the same as the one projected by the World Bank but lower than the 6.2% projected by the Asian Development Bank. According to IHS Markit Asia-Pacific chief economist Rajiv Biswas, “GDP growth momentum is forecast to strengthen to 6.1% in 2020, helped by stronger exports as improving global electronics orders and the US-China ‘phase one’ trade deal [would] support Philippines exports [amid the] continued ramping-up of the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.”

SINGAPORE

Singapore announces new AI initiatives at WEF
(21 January 2020) Singapore announced a set of three initiatives aimed at improving consumer trust on the use and governance of artificial intelligence (AI) at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on 21 January. The initiatives are an Implementation and Self-Assessment Guide for Organisations (ISAGO); a compendium of use cases; and a second edition of the Model AI Governance Framework. The announcement followed a similar move at the WEF meeting in November 2019 where Singapore launched the first edition of Model AI and announced its National AI Strategy. The Model AI Governance Framework was updated to include additional considerations such as robustness and reproducibility, and is aimed at making it more relevant and usable.

INDONESIA

Indonesia records lower trade deficit in December 2019
(20 January 2020) Indonesia registered a trade balance of US$0.03 billion in December 2019, shrinking significantly from the US$1.39 billion it registered in November 2019.”The improvement stemmed from a non-oil and gas trade surplus due to declining non-oil and gas imports across all commodity groups coupled with stronger non-oil and gas export performance,” Onny Widjanarko, Executive Director of the BI Communication Department, noted in a statement dated 20 January. Indonesia’s trade balance recorded a deficit of US$3.20 billion in 2019, considerably lower than the US$8.70 billion deficit recorded in 2018.

INDONESIA

WeChat Pay now legally accepted in Indonesia
(16 January 2020) China-based e-wallet We-Chat Pay has been granted a permit by Bank Indonesia (BI) to operate in the country. According to BI deputy governor Sugeng, the central bank granted the permit on 1 January. The permit was granted after WeChat Pay formed a partnership with private bank CIMB Niaga. The bank will serve as an “acquirer” in charge of processing each transaction made through the e-wallet platform. WeChat Pay’s entry into the Indonesian growing cashless ecosystem coincided with the implementation of BI’s Quick Response Indonesia Standard (QRIS) code, which is a nationwide standard QR payment system. Customers using WeChat Pay will be able to use it when buying from merchants that support QRIS.

Mekong Monitor: World Bank cautions Thailand on GDP growth outlook


Photo credit: Bangkok Post

 

TRADE, ECONOMY, AND INVESTMENT

 

THAILAND

World Bank cautions Thailand on GDP growth outlook
(18 January 2020) The World Bank has downgraded Thailand’s economic growth outlook for 2020 to 2.7%. The latest revised figure is still higher than the bank’s growth estimate of 2.5% for 2019 but it cautioned that Thailand’s average annual economic growth will remain below 3% if there is no significant increase in productivity growth and investment. According to the World Bank’s Thailand Economic Monitor report, productivity growth fell from 3.6% during 1999-2007 to 1.3% during 2010-2016. Private investment has halved from 30% of GDP in 1997 to 15% in 2018, as foreign direct investment slowed and progress stalled on projects related to the Eastern Economic Corridor. The country’s economy grew by 2.5% during the January-September 2019, dampened by an export slump that stemmed from the global economic slowdown and US-China trade tensions, elevated household debt weighing on domestic consumption and weak investment after a months-long delay in annual budget spending for fiscal 2020.
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CAMBODIA, VIETNAM

Cambodia, Vietnam pledge to combat cross-border offences
(21 January 2020) Cambodia and Vietnam have committed to continue taking tough measures to prevent and crack down on all forms of cross-border offences, particularly drug and forestry offences along the common border. The joint commitment was made by Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Gen. To Lam, Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security, during their meeting to review the outcome of their countries’ cooperation in 2019. Sar Kheng was on a working visit to Ho Chi Minh City from 17 to 19 January. The two sides have also agreed to counter illegal border crossing and have also pledged to continue their cooperation in borderline management and peaceful resolution of different issues based on the principles of mutual respect of independence and sovereignty.
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VIETNAM

Viettel becomes world’s 6th provider of 5G devices
(20 January 2020) Vietnam telecom company Viettel announced that it is now the sixth provider of 5G devices globally, behind Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and ZTE. According to Viettel general director Le Dang Dung, the 5G network will determine the success of the digital economy and that many countries are using 5G services to strengthen their science-technology position on the global market and develop their economies. Viettel said it will start commercialising the devices by June 2020 and produce the devices on a large scale in 2021. Viettel currently has more than 110 million customers in 11 countries. The telecom company hopes to build civil and military products by using “5G technology system” developed and manufactured in Vietnam.
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CAMBODIA

Cambodian government takes steps to lower logistics, transport costs
(20 January 2020) The Cambodian government is taking measures to reduce logistics and transport costs to maintain its competitiveness in light of the possible loss of the European Union’s Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme. The EU is scheduled to decide in February 2020 whether or not it would like to withdraw the trade privileges from Cambodia. The reduction in logistics and transport costs include the terminal handling charge in Sihanoukville Autonomous Port and Phnom Penh Autonomous Port which has been reduced by $5 per twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU), and the container imbalance charge that has been reduced by $12 for a 20-foot container and $40 for a 40-foot one.
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MYANMAR

Myanmar, Japan sign Exchange of Notes on 4 projects worth about US$1.1 billion
(22 January 2020) Myanmar and Japan have signed four Exchange Notes for four loan projects, worth US$1.1 billion. The four loan projects are the Yangon Sewerage System Development Project in Yangon; Urban Development Project; the Power Distribution Improvement Project in Yangon and Mandalay; and Providing funds to the Regional Infrastructure Improvement Project in Chin, Rakhine, Mon and Kayin states and Taninthayi Region. The Exchange of Notes for the projects were signed in Nay Pyi Taw on 21 January by Ambassador of Japan Mr Maruyama Ichiro and Deputy Minister for Planning, Finance and Industry U Maung Maung Win.
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mekong-monitor-map

About Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Programme was launched by the Asian Development Bank in 1992 connecting five developing ASEAN countries, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand, and Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region. The region has some of the most robust economies sharing the Mekong River Basin thanks to its reform and liberalisation. The subregion is growing at a faster pace than the whole of East Asia and the Asia Pacific as the GDP growth rate for 2017 was at 6.4 percent, according to the World Bank. The population at the subregion as of 2016 is at 340 million while the GDP at PPP is at US$3.1 trillion in 2016. In 2015, trading within the region was at US$444 billion.

China-ASEAN Monitor: Malaysia-China 2019 bilateral trade register record growth of 14.2% y-o-y


Photo Credit: Malaysiakini

 

Economy, Investment and Trade

 

Malaysia-China 2019 bilateral trade register record growth of 14.2% y-o-y
(20 January 2020) Trade between China and Malaysia registered a record growth of 14.2% year-on-year to US$124.0 billion in 2019 from US$108.6 billion in 2018. China’s ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian stated that this growth in trade demonstrated Chinese investor’s continued confidence in Malaysia after 45 years of diplomatic relations. He believes that with the encouraging investment atmosphere and friendship with Malaysia, China will continue to work closely and create investment opportunities with Malaysia, he said after the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) between InvestKL’s China Special Channel (CSC) and the Chinese Business Chambers.
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Malaysia fears drop in palm oil exports after US-China trade truce
(16 January 2020) The Malaysian Palm Oil Board stated that Malaysian palm oil exports to China might suffer after the US and China had signed the so-called “phase one” trade deal on January 15. As part of the deal, China had agreed to purchase more agricultural products from the US, including palm oil’s major competitor, soybean. Malaysian palm oil exports to China had jumped 27.6% in the first 10 months of 2019 as compared to the same period last year. Malaysia exported a total of 2.49 million metric tons of palm oil to China last year.
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Chinese coronavirus outbreak threatens Thai tourism industry during Lunar New Year
(22 January 2020) The recent outbreak of a coronavirus virus originating from Wuhan, China, is threatening Thailand’s vital tourism industry during the approaching Lunar New Year, normally a peak travel period. Thai authorities have set up temperature detectors at airport arrival gates for flights from Wuhan in order to prevent a wider panic which might scare away tourists. Chinese tourists have become the largest spenders in Thailand, accounting for 30% of tourist receipts last year. The World Health Organization emergency committee is set to meet on 22 January to discuss whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency.
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Myanmar and China sign 33 bilateral agreements under Belt and Road Initiative
(18 January 2020) Myanmar and China signed 33 bilateral agreements under the Belt and Road Initiative. Among the projects agreed upon included railways linking China to Kyaukpyu on the Bay of Bengal in Rakhine, a deep sea port in Rakhine, and a special economic zone near the Chinese border. It was reported, however that key details of the agreements, including key bidding and financing arrangements, have been left open to future negotiations. Left off the table was the now-suspended Myitsone hydropower dam in Kachin state, which is valued at US$3.6 billion.
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Chinese company looking to invest ‘millions of dollars’ into cotton industry in Cambodian province
(20 January 2020) A Chinese company is reportedly looking to invest “millions of dollars” Kampong Speu province’s cotton industry, according to the provincial governor Vei Samnang. The Chinese firm is looking to invest money into 30,000 hectares for growing and processing the crop. The name of the company or exact figures on the amount to be invested was not revealed. Provincial authorities will reportedly help the firm buy land by connecting them with landowners.
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ASEAN Roundtable | Series Smart Showcase Series on Making Digital Healthcare Affordable and Accessible in ASEAN 4.0

Published on 20 January 2020

ASEAN Roundtable Series

CARI Viewpoints: Innovations in Digital Healthcare provides opportunities for ASEAN to provide more affordable and inclusive healthcare for the poor

The CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) in collaboration with the ASEAN-BAC Malaysia Healthcare Working Group held an ASEAN Roundtable Series on “Smart Showcase Series: ASEAN Healthcare Dialogue”. The roundtable was held on 20 November 2019 alongside the ASEAN Health Summit & Exhibition which was held at Perdana Hall, MITI Tower, from 20-21 November.

Entitled “Making Digital Healthcare Affordable and Accessible in ASEAN 4.0,” the roundtable looked at how innovation in the digital space, whether it be artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotics and the internet-of-things (IoT), could be leveraged to increase efficiencies, reduce medical costs, and detect life-threatening illnesses earlier.

To bring clarity to an important yet complex issue, the roundtable was headlined by Malaysia’s deputy health minister YB Dr. Lee Boon Chye. Other speakers featured in the roundtable included Franck Perraudin, Asia Head, External Affairs & Public Affairs, Sanofi; Prof. David Bloom, Professor of Health Economics and Demography, Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Global Health, Harvard University; Hazmin Abdul Rahim, SAP Public Services Director for SAP Malaysia; Dr. Marcus Schabacker, President & CEO, ECRI Institute, USA; and Arin Jira, Chairman, 2019 ASEAN Business Advisory Council Thailand.

Moderating the talk was Tan Sri Munir Majid, Chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI), President of the ASEAN Business Club, and member of Malaysia’s Economic Action Council chaired by the Prime Minister.

 

Malaysia in the Digital Healthcare Sphere


The session was opened by YB Dr. Lee Boon Chye, who discussed what Malaysia is doing specifically in the realm of Digital Healthcare. He stated that Malaysia has a “real vision” in providing accessible healthcare for all Malaysians, and that he hopes private enterprises can aid in this endeavour by providing innovative solutions such as wearables, online appointment making, home care etc. He gave an example of one initiative the Malaysian government is undertaking, which is the Malaysian Health Data Warehouse, a patient data collection system.

Hazmin Rahim stated that a technology company such as SAP Malaysia would welcome opportunities to collaborate with governments and non-profit organisations to find new innovative ways of providing better quality healthcare.

 

Digital Healthcare in ASEAN


Tan Sri Munir Majid elaborated on what ASEAN as a whole is doing in terms of Digital Healthcare. He noted that the Healthcare Working Group established by ASEAN-BAC Malaysia is the first of its kind, and was set up to push for specific proposals on ASEAN healthcare integration. One example he provides is establishing common standards on the manufacturing of healthcare equipment, which would help facilitate the free flow of products within ASEAN.

Dr. Schabacker observed that ASEAN is currently undergoing the twin dynamics of an ageing population and rapid urbanisation. While he agrees that digital technologies may provide solutions to some of the problems brought on by these dynamics, the adoption of said technologies must be based on evidence-based standards and independent evaluations given the humanitarian cost of healthcare. He believes that ASEAN has the obligation to set these standards before allowing the free flow of goods. He also opines that given the speed at which the healthcare world is moving, it is incumbent on all stakeholders in the healthcare world to work together.

Arin Jira for his part reiterated his concern that any discussions involving healthcare should be mindful of the fact that healthcare remains out of reach for many of ASEAN’s poorest. He challenged healthcare technologists to come up with a scheme that would replicate the evolution of the mobile phone, pointing to the increasing affordability of the latter.

 

Can innovation make healthcare more accessible?


On how ASEAN could deliver better and more affordable health care, Dr. Schabacker believes that ASEAN must focus on proven solutions rather than exciting or “fancy” solutions in light of limited resources.

Professor Bloom expanded the discussion by noting that this focus on urbanisation might ignore the needs of rural populations, and that digital innovations might help meet both needs. He provided the example of the US-based startup HealthTap, which provides free medical consultations from certified doctors.

Professor Bloom complimented the idea of integrating data systems across ASEAN, since it would allow the pooling together of data from different countries to allow policymakers to make optimal decisions when designing healthcare systems. YB Dr. Lee, however, observed that there are still many barriers in implementing a uniform ASEAN-wide framework.

The issue of price benchmarking was raised where inconsistent pricing has been observed. YB Dr. Lee suggested that ASEAN could leverage upon its single community when negotiating for lower prices with pharmaceutical and technology companies. He added however that the disparity of economic development across ASEAN would make benchmarking difficult.

In response to another query on how pharmaceutical companies can be encouraged to lower drug prices to meet public policy objectives, YB Dr. Lee stated that lowering the costs of doing business through a single regulatory agency may be beneficial, although he conceded this is not a foolproof plan.

 

A Digital Healthcare Roadmap for ASEAN?


Noting the common consensus among the panellists for greater cooperation, the panellists discussed whether it was time for a digital healthcare roadmap for ASEAN. YB Dr. Lee opined that Malaysia could perhaps serve as a “conduit” for cooperation between more and less developed ASEAN Member States, although Tan Sri Munir believes that implementing specific projects would be more impactful than more roadmaps.

Mr Perraudin stressed an effective roadmap and/or public-private partnership would require identifying the appropriate end goals and working backwards from there. Dr. Schabacker added that one end goal in particular, we should consider is patient safety, since new technologies may bring their own problems with them.

 

Diagnostics and preventative care


On the topic of the importance of diagnostics and preventative care, Dr. Bloom argued that promoting cheaper diagnostics could certainly be useful in reducing healthcare costs by catching diseases early on. He also argued that from a financial standpoint, it would make more sense to finance certain health systems through debt rather than taxation, since the benefits would be accrued later on. YB Dr. Lee also agreed, pointing to recent advancements in creating a more accurate and faster diagnostics. Dr. Schabacker warned that better diagnostics will ultimately have to be accompanied by effective care to have a meaningful impact.

 

Concluding remarks


In his concluding remarks, YB Dr. Lee observed that to expand the quality and cost-effectiveness of healthcare, two key areas that should be focused on include preventative care and patient empowerment. He stated that digital healthcare can serve as an enabler, rather than an end goal, in achieving these two respective objectives.

Dr. Bloom, for his part, observed that the discussions made in the session provided optimism that the future challenges facing the healthcare sector can be overcome.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

ASEAN Roundtable Series