Seminar on Realising the ASEAN Economic Community: Views from Business and Non-Governmental Sectors

This seminar examined existing ASEAN mechanisms for government-private engagemen and consultation.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016 – The ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a seminar by Mr. Chris Humphrey, Executive Director of the EU-ASEAN Business Council, Dr. Alexandra C. Chandra, Associate Fellow at the Habibie Centre, Jakarta and Ms. Sanchita Basu Das, Fellow and Lead Researcher (Economics), ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS, on the non-governmental and business sector views on the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). 

Ms. Sanchita kick started the discussion providing an independent researcher’s perspective on why AEC is a work-in-progress. She provided examples under trade in goods and narrowing development gap, where ASEAN countries have met some of the targets in the blueprint, but lot needs to be done.

Ms. Sanchita speaking about how the business community in ASEAN is currently fragmented with not so common policy wish lists among the European, the American and the Japanese private sectors. Seated next to her (from left to right): Mr. Chris Humphrey and Dr. Alexandra C. Chandra. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

ASEAN’s own Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) is still evolving. It is the national sectoral associations in ASEAN countries that play a relatively more engaging role in ASEAN policy making circle.

Mr. Chris Humphrey provided a comprehensive and interesting discussion of the EU businesses in the ASEAN region. 

Mr. Humphrey explaining to the participants that the EU is the largest foreign investor in the region and the second largest trading partner. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Although ASEAN has a very positive socio-economic outlook, the regional integration suffers from challenges like prevalence of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), cumbersome customs procedures, different standards and regulations, lack of targeted support for SMEs.
Going forward, ASEAN 2025 is a good document with focus areas on NTB, ICT, e-commerce, customs, healthcare and many others. The new document talks about increased private sector involvement and institutionalisation of the consultative process with ‘lead private sector entities’. 

In terms of ASEAN’s own business organisation, Dr. Chandra, agreed with Sanchita that ASEAN-BAC has several challenges and it is still evolving. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
On paper, post-ASEAN Charter in 2007, there are several business associations that are mentioned in the ASEAN processes. These are ASEAN-BAC, 10 ASEAN+1 Business Councils and 66 business organisations/ associations interacting with sectoral bodies of ASEAN. However, the role of these business associations in ASEAN policy making process remains unclear.

Participants at the seminar. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) 

The AEC 2025 Blueprint mentions of strengthening the role of private sector in ASEAN. For the role of ASEAN-BAC, AEC 2025, talks about three key things – a) membership to reflect strong linkages with the business stakeholders, b) better structured engagement between ASEAN-BAC, business councils and other business associations and c) enhanced coordination between ASEAN-BAC and the ASEAN Secretariat.

Over 40 participants attended the 2-hr seminar, which was held in the morning.