Datuk Seri Mohamed Iqbal Rawther, Chairman, Economic Club of Kuala Lumpur
Mr. Tan Sri Michael Yeoh, Founder and Chairman, ASEAN Leadership & Partnership Forum and President, KSI Strategic Institute for the Asia Pacific
Excellencies, Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to express my gratitude for inviting me to deliver a special statement at this ASEAN Leadership and Partnership Forum, which focuses on five priority areas: rebuilding ASEAN after the pandemic; investment opportunities; digital transformation; regional agreements; and responsible and sustainable business leadership. The Forum and its five priority topics are very timely as the COVID-19 pandemic has entered into the second year. Countries are still grappling with a surge of cases due to new variants, adding up to a total number of more than 11.7 million cases to date in South-East Asia alone, not to mention its devastating socio-economic impacts.
It is clear that in our effort to come out of the pandemic, we need to have a recovery strategy which is more resilient to future shocks and crises.
The ASEAN region needs to transform into an inclusive, resilient and sustainable or green-blue economy to address three sets of policy challenges to building back better, namely:
Widened inequality gaps that threaten social cohesion and stability;
Structural disruptions caused by the pandemic and post-pandemic transformations; and
The impact of digitalization on economic opportunity and human capital formation.
In this regard, allow me to suggest the following priority areas for an inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery.
First, to recover better together and to address the widening inequality gap, we need to build more inclusive societies by ensuring:
continuity in fiscal and financial support for vulnerable groups and hardest-hit businesses until there is a robust recovery;
promoting an employment-led recovery; and
closing social protection coverage gaps.
Second, to create more resilient economies and be better prepared for future crises, we need to ensure that countries in the region are:
prepared for climate-disaster-health emergencies;
creating more resilient regional supply chains;
ensuring conducive trade and investment for recovery; and
investing in strategic industries and infrastructure.
Last, we need to harness the power of digitalization by promoting digitalization processes and scaling up the digital-based economy. There is an urgent need to digitalize services related to health, education and government services. This will form the basis of a digitally connected economy with government and social services.
Beyond digital connectivity, the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, if ratified by ASEAN member States, will benefit them in their transactions among parties to regional trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Additionally, we need to build green and blue economies. Long-term environmental sustainability must be embedded in the COVID-19 policy response as well as incorporated into consumption behaviours and responsible business investment processes, practices and analyses.
We must utilize innovative financing tools, including green and SDG-linked bonds, as instruments to address post-COVID-19 financing needs while advancing official development assistance and South-South and triangular cooperation.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
The multifaceted nature of the problem means that all stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society and academia, have a vital role to play.
This Forum provides a timely opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss priority policy areas and share lessons and insights on recovery strategies
Through policy choices and priorities, member States are in a position to implement innovative strategies to recover from this ongoing crisis and ensure that no person or country is left behind.
ASEAN’s leadership is needed more than ever in building forward better.
ESCAP, along with the UN system, stands ready to continue and deepen collaboration with all relevant stakeholders in all member States through cooperation and partnership to build our nations back better in the post-COVID-19 era.
I wish you a very successful Forum.
Thank you very much.