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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

30 November 2021


Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege for me to participate in the inaugural ASEAN Sub-regional Cooperation Forum organized by Viet Nam.

The world has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and experienced the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. Governments have undertaken a combination of health, macroeconomic and stabilization measures to address the social and economic impacts of the crisis.

The region is started to recover as countries begin to re-open their economies for business and travel.

The immediate challenge for countries in their recovery is how to regain the momentum of sustainable development.

Within Asean Comprehensive Recovery Framework, each member State must work steadfastly towards establishing the ASEAN Community, to create a competitive market that promotes sustainable development and facilitates integration with the global economy. Addressing the development gap in ASEAN is critical to the regional integration processes.

In this context, sustainable recovery from COVID-19 aligned with the SDGs has become a priority for countries at the regional and national levels.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Asia-Pacific region was not on track to achieve any of the SDGs. Regional prospects to do so have worsened particularly in the lesser developed countries. Our estimates show that the pandemic has pushed 89 million people in the Asia Pacific region into extreme poverty despite the SDG target of eliminating it by 2030.

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

ESCAP’s work is dedicated to supporting countries in overcoming challenges in their pursuit of sustainable development and addressing the narrowing development gap.

Allow me to highlight some pertinent points.

The first is investing in people. The current underinvestment in social protection means that two out of three people in ASEAN are left to fend for themselves in times of need.

In the ASEAN region, where half of the countries spent less than 2 per cent of GDP on social protection during the pre-COVID-19 era, the introduction of COVID-19 special protection measures provides an opportunity to lock in long term investments in systems that are better equipped to respond to the unexpected. Social protection is the primary line of defence in a crisis like COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, is in making the ASEAN Community inclusive, resilient and sustainable. The dual crisis confronting ASEAN - the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change - signals an end to incrementalism.

We need a new social contract that targets stubbornly high levels of inequality and demonstrates the people centered approach through increased investments in people, social protection and universal healthcare.

We also need to set a course for low carbon economies by mid-century, with intermediate milestones that include eliminating new coal power plant investments and the phasing out of existing coal power plants.

We need an overhaul of public and private investment so that the economy delivers rather than derails ASEAN’s sustainable development aspirations and the Paris Agreement, delivered increasingly through a green and circular ASEAN economy.

And third, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the region’s connectivity remains fragile, despite decades of work. We have witnessed major disruptions in cross border transport and supply chains.

The pandemic also brought into focus areas for improving the region’s connectivity, including investing in resilient transport connectivity; seamless trade as an enabler for tomorrow’s digital economy; energy connectivity that sets in motion the green electricity grids of tomorrow; and digital connectivity that goes hand in hand with bridging the digital divide within and between countries.

In this process, international and regional cooperation is essential to facilitate the sharing of experiences, good practices across countries and stakeholders as well as to scale up the commitments and implementation.

Thank you very much.

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Subregional Office for South-East Asia +66 22 88 2902 [email protected]