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DAVOS: Businesses looking towards sustainable political systems in Asean

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International, United Kingdom.Sigve Brekke, President and Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Group, Norway, Nazir Razak, Chairman, CIMB Group Holdings, Malaysia.Vuong Dinh Hue, Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies of Singapore, Mari Elka Pangestu, Professor of International Economics, University of Indonesia, Indonesia during the Session “Strategic Outlook: ASEAN ” at the Annual Meeting 2018 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 24, 2018.Copyright by World Economic Forum / Manuel Lopez

With a combined population of 640 million and a nominal GDP of more than $3 trillion, the 10 member countries of Asean are a key source of global growth. What is good for Asean is good for the world.

Priorities for the Asean group include inclusive growth, sustainable development, gender equality and economic integration.

This year is a big one politically, with elections in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand (most likely). Business is looking for continued peace and security but also progress towards more sustainable political systems and more reliable legal systems.

In particular, individual Asean governments are called upon to address key issues:
1. Reassess national policies towards entrepreneurs: vested interests and incumbents often prove insurmountable, preventing Asean unicorns from arising
2. Get the balance right between private enterprise and state-owned enterprises
3. Strengthen legal systems to bring certainty to long-term contracts
4. Tackle entrenched gender norms to help release the potential for women and girls
5. Continue the push towards elimination of corruption and misuse of public funds
At the Asean level, business and government leaders call for a more aggressive pace of integration.

The “Asean Way” – emphasizing consultation and consensus building – has maintained intra-
Asean harmony since the grouping’s formation in 1967. This approach, however, has fallen short when it comes to integration. Without regional harmonization and economies of scale, the danger is that global platform companies could crowd out regional innovators. This risks Asean falling behind in the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Finally, the next phase of economic progress in Asean will need to be driven by women and youth.

Regional GDP would be 10-20% larger if women were fully integrated into the workforce. Improving digital literacy alone would bring over 20 million women into the digital economy. In terms of prospects, the main concern is unemployment, with youth unemployment up to five times that of national averages in some cases – an unsustainable situation.

Asean can lead the world in demonstrating the advantages of integration and harmonization. To do this, women and youth need to be in the driver’s seat.

Gareth Shepherd, Official Writer at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018

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