On the occasion of the Philippine hosting of the 23rd ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Retreat and Related Meetings, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC), led by its 2017 Chairman Joey Concepcion, presented its priority agenda to the AEM last March 9, 2017 at Conrad Hotel Manila. Mr. Concepcion briefed the AEM on the elements and motivation behind ASEAN BAC’s 2017 theme of Engaging the World, Prosperity for All. He said “The economic integration effort would be meaningless if the economic rewards of growth and prosperity will exclude the MSMEs which account for almost 95-99% of total enterprises across ASEAN.” As the backbone of the region’s economic engine, he explained that the following three key pillars will have to interplay and complement each other:
a.) Promote and deepen the role of Inclusive Business where big corporates serve as big brothers to micro and small enterprises and likewise deliberately integrating the poor and low-income communities as suppliers, customers and employees as part of their core businesses;
b.) Empower and prepare MSMEs thru effective mentoring provided by successful entrepreneurs covering access to finance, markets, innovation, and other requirements to make them more productive and competitive;
c.) Continued government support both in policy reforms and programs to provide the enabling environment where MSME competitiveness can thrive.
Dr. Munir Majid, ASEAN BAC Chair for Malaysia, presented to the AEM alternatives for MSME financing which is IT based and is more responsive to the needs and conditions of MSMEs. He said “The current interest rate levels in ASEAN has given rise to small investors who are more open to invest outside their countries and are willing to invest or provide lending at credit-worthy MSME projects and which have big potentials in penetrating the ASEAN market.”
Another exciting fast and easy-to-access finance platform for MSMEs that Malaysia is pursuing across the region is the setting up of the Growth Accelerator Exchange or GAX. It’s a digital and data mining infrastructure that puts together the three basic solutions necessary for MSME growth, namely e-Financing, e-Payment and e-Logistics Services.
Dr. Robert Yap, ASEAN BAC Chair for Singapore, presented to the AEM the concrete actions plans in establishing genuine ASEAN Connectivity. He enumerated the connectivity related legacy projects of ASEAN BAC starting with Financial Connectivity (Malaysia in 2015); followed by the Laos Land-Based Connect Project (Laos in 2016); the Philippine Maritime Connectivity Project with Indonesia (2017) and the establishment of A Knowledge and Skills Connectivity thru the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN).
Lastly, Mr. Gil Gonzales, ASEAN BAC Executive Director, updated the AEM on the progress of deepening private sector engagement with various private public consultative working groups. He reported that ASEAN BAC’s 5 priority and people-centric sectors of Healthcare, Agri-Food, Logistics, Tourism and Retail are now aligned with corresponding consultative working groups. For cross-cutting issues, he said that “ASEAN BAC is happy to report the very enthusiastic support of other Business Council Dialogue Partners in taking leadership in key areas as Trade Facilitation, Financial Inclusion, and in Innovation.” He also impressed the continuing clamor from business to facilitate completion of other key pending reforms and recommendations which the council has presented over the years such as the ASEAN Single Window, ASEAN Business Travel Card and all pending 2015 deliverables, among others.
The AEM Chair, Sec. Ramon Lopez of the Philippines and different Economic Ministers took turns in expressing their gratitude and commendation to the Council for its focus on MSMEs and Connectivity as effective drivers of change that should lead to faster and more inclusive prosperity in ASEAN. They also highly appreciated the deeper engagement of ASEAN BAC in putting together the voice and strength of its private sector partners in helping push and hasten the realization of AEC goals and aspirations.
Other members of the Council who were in attendance were: Mr. Arin Jira (Thailand Chair), Mr. Douglas Foo (Singapore), Mr. Somyod Tangleemalep (EABC Thailand), Mr Xaybandith Rasphone (Lao PDR), Dato’ Ramesh Kodammal (Malaysia).