Chairpersons of the 24th World Economic Forum on East Asia closed the three-day event in Jakarta on April 21 with a fresh sense of optimism and trust in Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as Malaysia was named the next host, according to the Jakarta Globe April 21.
“[Indonesian] President [Joko Widodo] spoke of the optimism that he has, and this confirms the belief that through all the major global challenges the world is facing today, Indonesia has a lot to contribute,” said Mr John Riady, executive director of the Lippo Group and one of the five co-chairs of the WEF on East Asia, during the closing session.
About 800 people participated in the forum, including representatives from Myanmar, which began on April 19 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, engaging in discussions on a range of topics under the theme “Anchoring Trust on East Asia’s New Regionalism.”
In the regional context, most participants expressed their optimism for the ASEAN Economic Community — set to go into full force at year-end — to contribute to the betterment of the region.
With the milestone launching of the AEC, Southeast Asian nations had the opportunity to take the region to the next level of development, though there remained significant challenges ahead.
Speakers raised the challenges for ASEAN including labour mobility and the need for freer movement of human capital. Migration is not a problem to solve; it is a reality to be managed, said one speaker.
Earlier, in a session on the global impact of ASEAN, business and government leaders spoke of the opportunities and challenges arising from ASEAN’s regional integration.
“If you think about the notion of a more complete supply chain across the region, there are huge advantages,” said Mr H. Raymond Bingham, chairman of the board of Flextronics International of the US.
“Many of the elements are already here in ASEAN, but there are barriers — boundaries, regulations, the inability to have a mobile workforce.”
With ASEAN integration deepening, Myanmar will have to address issues such as the lack of skills and the need to improve education, said Mr Serge Pun, chairman of the consultancy Serge Pun & Associates.
“As the youngest member of ASEAN, we want to have our cake and eat it,” he said. “We want all the benefits of integration, but we are also worried about competing with mature economies and companies.”
India sees significant opportunities for driving its growth in engaging the ASEAN, said Mr Adi B. Godrej, chairman of India’s Godrej Industries.
“There are a lot of things that ASEAN countries can do to leverage each other’s strengths to further rapid growth,” he advised. “India could be a great partner to ASEAN.”
The AEC and regional integration of ASEAN are “a work in progress, but we have done a lot,” Mr Cesar V. Purisima, the secretary of finance of the Philippines, told participants, noting that electronics was a sector where significant integration across the 10 Southeast Asian economies had already been achieved.
“We have seen the value of one market. We are working through it systematically — in the ASEAN way,” he added.
“It is time to take action,” Mr Murat Sonmez, chief business officer and a member of the managing board of the World Economic Forum, told participants in remarks at the end of the closing session.
He outlined four issues that were the focus of discussions at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, including public-private cooperation on infrastructure development; financial inclusion; the need to address non-communicable diseases; and food security.
At the meeting, the WEF, in cooperation with the ASEAN Secretariat, launched “Grow Asia,” a new program to strengthen food security and sustainable agriculture in ASEAN, expected to reach 10 million farmers by 2020.
Building trust among all stakeholders and in institutions will be crucial if Asean is to succeed in reaping the full benefits of regional integration, Mr Riady said.
“People have lost trust in the ability of markets and business to create wealth and to fairly allocate opportunities,” he said. “So it is important for business to reflect on its role and the role that it can play in society. But this is important not only for business.”
“No matter who we are — whether in government, education, media or NGO — this is an important time to reflect on stewardship, how we can be better stewards of what we have been given, and how we can rethink what we are doing and better structure our institutions to reflect the realities of our world.”
Mr Riay said the WEF had recommended concrete action for ASEAN.
“We’ve put in some concrete recommendations. One is a common visa across ASEAN akin to the Schengen visa. That way, foreigners don’t have to reapply for each country. This would increase the number of visitors into the region,” he said.
Second, he said, is to strengthen the ASEAN Secretariat.
“Their annual budget is US$14 million [K14 billion]. That’s small considering that their job is hard. We want to strengthen the secretariat so that it can support policies and implement them well,” he said, adding that stakeholders were still discussing the details of the funding scheme.
“Of course, it must be funded by the ASEAN member states. What we suggested next is that in every embassy, there should be an ASEAN flag next to the country’s flags,” John said.
Mr Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia’s minister of international trade and industry, and Mr Philipp Roosler, a member of the managing board of the World Economic Forum, announced that next year’s meeting would be held in Malaysia.