Pockets of opportunity for ASEAN-UK ties to be further strengthened: forum

Even as the United Kingdom has made strides to deepen its involvement with ASEAN, there remain large pockets of opportunities in which the relationship can be further strengthened.

This was the main sentiment expressed by representatives from the UK and ASEAN at the UK-ASEAN Business Forum, which took place in Standard Chartered’s headquarters in London on Mar 8.

The forum was organised by UK-ASEAN Business Council, the UK’s Department for Business and Trade, the UK Mission to ASEAN and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council.

In his keynote address, Zulkifli Hasan, Minister of Trade, Indonesia, said that as ASEAN Chair of 2023, Indonesia’s vision is to build a “resilient, adaptive and inclusive ASEAN” that will provide benefits to people both within and outside of the region.

He divided Indonesia’s economic deliverables for 2023 under three pillars: recovery and rebuilding, digital economy, and sustainability, and encouraged great collaboration between ASEAN and UK businesses, especially in the areas of digital assistance, education, sustainability and green finance.

Bill Winters, group chief executive officer at Standard Chartered Bank, noted that it is a “particularly attractive time” for ASEAN both because of how the region is coming together as an increasingly important trading bloc and because of the critical role that ASEAN plays in connecting the world.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) forecast in September last year that developing Asia’s economy will outpace that of China for the first time in more than three decades.

In its December supplement, ADB raised its forecast for developing Asia excluding China from 5.3 per cent to 5.4 per cent for 2022. China’s economy is forecast to expand by 3 per cent in 2022, compared with its September projection of 3.3 per cent.

ADB’s growth forecast for South-east Asia for 2022 was raised to 5.5 per cent from 5.1 per cent, amid robust consumption and tourism recovery in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Projections for next year, however, were lowered to 4.7 per cent from 5 per cent due to weakening global demand. 

The next Asian Development Outlook will be published in April.

There are, as a result, “extraordinary opportunities for investment and growth”, said Winters, adding that the bank expects these underlying trends to persist for many years to come.

“Dislocations associated with supply chain disruptions – COVID-19-related but also related to geopolitical tensions – are affecting us all in different ways. But these supply chain disruptions are in many ways benefiting the underlying economies of ASEAN,” he said during his keynote address.

He further noted that the “structural changes” and agreements that have been reached, ranging from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), will bring benefit to Asia and the UK.

In 2021, the UK became an ASEAN Dialogue Partner, the first dialogue partner ASEAN has included in 25 years. And in February this year, the UK government said that it is making “good progress in negotiating our own accession to CPTPP”. UK accession could mean that more than 99 per cent of UK exports to member countries would become eligible for tariff-free trade.

But even as the UK is deeply involved with business forums and alliances that have been set up to promote free and fair trade across the region, more can be done.

“I’d say 40 billion is a good place to start in terms of across investment and trade, but we all know that it’s a fraction of what we can do,” said Winters.

Total trade between ASEAN and the UK amounted to £36.2 billion (S$59.3 billion) in 2021 (to the end of the third quarter); and foreign direct investment to ASEAN stood at US$7.9 billion in 2019, according to the UK government’s UK-ASEAN factsheet.

Whether it be the financial services, life sciences, defences or automotive industries, “the opportunities are outstanding for the UK given the strong foundations that exist between the UK and the various ASEAN countries, and between the UK and ASEAN as a bloc”, he said.

In his keynote address, British Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade, Nigel Huddleston, said the UK’s goal is “to strengthen our political, cultural and economic ties through opening our markets, sharing our knowledge, and engaging our business communities”.

He added that the UK’s commitment to ASEAN is “ironclad” and “as our tilt towards the Indo-Pacific intensifies that will become stronger and stronger”.

Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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