Seminar on “Business and Economic Priorities under Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2023”

In this hybrid seminar, Mr Arsjad Rasjid discussed the business and economic priorities of ASEAN-BAC under Indonesia’s chairmanship. With the change in leadership this year, ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) seeks to ASEAN’s centrality to world markets by initiating innovations that promote greater inclusivity within the region.


Tuesday, 14 February 2023 – With the post-Covid challenges still affecting this region, Indonesia’s role as the chair for ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) seeks ways to promote ASEAN as the epicentre for growth within the region. Mr M. Arsjad Rasjid P. M. (hereby, Mr Arsjad), the Chair of the ASEAN-BAC 2023, spoke at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute’s hybrid seminar on “Business and Economic Priorities under Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2023”. He was accompanied by two delegates who contributed their expertise during the question and answer segment. They were Mr Bernardino Vega (hereby, Mr Vega), Alternate Chair of the ASEAN-BAC 2023 and Mr Gil L. Gonzales (hereby, Mr Gonzales), Executive Director of ASEAN-BAC. The seminar was moderated by Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, Senior Fellow and Co-coordinator of the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

Business and Economic Priorities under Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2023
From left to right: Mr Gil Gonzales, Dr Siwage Dharma Negara (moderator), Mr Arsjad Rasjid and Mr Bernardino Vega. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Arsjad started the seminar with a brief video that concisely captures ASEAN-BAC’s 2023 vision and strategies that align with their theme, ‘ASEAN Centrality: Innovating towards Greater Inclusivity’. It hinges on five priority issues: Digital Transformation, Sustainable Development, Health Resilience, Food Security and Trade Facilitation. The video also glimpses across the legacy projects that will tackle these issues. Mr Arsjad encouraged ISEAS to produce more relevant research for regional businesses and, in that way, support ASEAN-BAC in its pursuits.

Mr Arsjad then began his seminar proper with the conviction that ASEAN matters. He emphasised the relevance of ASEAN to the global economy with rapid, consistent growth of the market since 2000. He believes it will continue to do so because of the region’s high population and continuous commitment to trade partnerships. However, Mr Arsjad observed diversity in terms of the level of development and demographics across each market. He asserted that trade partnerships are, therefore, key to regional peace and that ASEAN-BAC is committed to spreading prosperity across a wider audience.

Mr Arsjad later highlighted the acute effects of Covid-19 that have challenged the whole region’s economy. From here on, the seminar explored in greater detail the five priority issues and the legacy projects that ASEAN-BAC plans to roll out.

Digital Transformation

In its effort to catch up with the rapid digital transformation, ASEAN-BAC sees the need to establish a more connected payment system within this region. ASEAN is a region that is moving online the fastest, with citizens becoming enthusiastic adopters of digital solutions. Mr Arsjad, however, admitted that other emerging markets are doing better than us. Therefore, he sees collaboration as a crucial aspect for ASEAN to remain a bright spot for tapping into the digital markets.

Sustainable Development

Given the post-Covid challenges, transiting to sustainable methods is crucial. That said, Mr Arsjad pointed out that the power generation mix in ASEAN remains highly carbon intensive. ASEAN governments, therefore, need to intervene in their policy that gears ASEAN towards adopting renewable energies. Mr Arsjad also highlighted that ASEAN has about 24% global potential for low-cost Natural Climate Solutions. He believes that ASEAN can be a regional-led carbon trade “centre of excellence” by establishing credible global carbon trading hubs.

Health Resilience

Mr Arsjad observed that the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the wide gap among ASEAN countries in handling major disease outbreaks. He urged “innovative countries” to help others in the region to improve their readiness to handle disease outbreaks. Mr Arsjad also highlighted that despite the recent increase in public healthcare spending, healthcare financing is dominated by private, out-of-pocket (OOP) expenses. Therefore, private sectors are more influential and must provide equal and accessible healthcare for all.

Food Security

Although ASEAN has seen improvement in food security over the last few years, Mr Arsjad asserted that it is still lagging. The production and distribution of food are at risk by geo-political and environmental uncertainties. Hence, Mr Arsjad believes that ASEAN governments must address challenges across the agriculture value chain to improve food security. In its bid to promote inclusivity, high-intervention approaches by the governments will create an ecosystem that empowers farmers and, in turn, enhances food security.

Trade Resilience

In terms of trade relations within ASEAN, Mr Arsjad observed that the contribution of exports to recent gross domestic product (GDP) growth varies widely among ASEAN countries and that ASEAN’s intra-regional trade was much lower than other trading blocs. He urged that ASEAN revisit its trade facilitation initiatives, such as the ASEAN free trade agreement, especially when companies are diversifying their production. ASEAN takes the step to align businesses with technological innovations and respond to trade relations with their partners.

Legacy Programs

Mr Arsjad then proceeded with a brief presentation of the legacy programmes that ASEAN-BAC plans for. Under the priority issue of Digital Transformation, three programmes, namely the ASEAN QR Code, Digital Lending Platform and Wiki Entrepreneur, are being rolled out. ASEAN Net Zero Hub and Carbon Center of Excellence have been put in place to deal with issues of Sustainable Development. To combat Health Resilience, the ASEAN One Shot Campaign has been launched. Lastly, to improve Food Security, the legacy program of the Inclusive Loop Model for Agriculture Products has been put in place.

Wrapping up, Mr Arsjad presented the organisation structure of ASEAN-BAC 2023 and hoped for stronger ties and partnership with businesses and institutions that aligns with their vision for the region.

The hybrid seminar drew a total of 114 in-person and online participants. The key takeaway from this session was that ASEAN-BAC seeks to instil synergy values within ASEAN to promote the 5Ps (peace, prosperity, people, planet and partnership) to the region. Pertaining to the labour markets within ASEAN-BAC hopes to start conversations with labour unions and promote upskilling among labourers in ASEAN so that prosperity can be better distributed. Last but not least, in ASEAN-BAC’s pursuit to promote connectivity and inclusivity through a regional credit system of payment, ASEAN must decide how these arrangements by the respective central banks will take place. It could be done either through a centralised ASEAN effort or through bilateral agreements between all countries within ASEAN.

114 participants attended the hybrid seminar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)