Despite Asia facing a turbulent economic and political situation, with credit availability currently tightening against the backdrop of ongoing territorial tensions in the South China Sea plus concerns about the environment with raging forest fires causing record levels of pollution in Southeast Asia over recent months, there was optimism for the region shown by speakers and participants at the 6th ASEAN and Asia Forum (AAF) held on 12 September at the St. Regis Hotel in Singapore and organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).
Some key highlights of the event included topics like how to mitigate the financial uncertainties in the region due to the fall in Indonesian and Indian currencies plus the slowing China growth together with the Qualitative Easing by the US Federal Reserve. However, panellists at the forum concluded that any downturn would be followed by swift recovery. “If we can ride through the turbulence of this outflow of capital, we will benefit from the huge upswing…the United States is going to recover, which will be positive for ASEAN and Singapore,” said Mr. Manu Bhaskaran, Director of Centennial Group International.
Another key point brought up is the need for integration. If Asia is indeed facing a possible slowdown, the move towards regional economic integration will be even more important. “People look at ASEAN and see a fragmented region, with many different currencies [and] regulations…if a crisis is happening, that’s even more impetus to come together.” said Mr. Heinrich Jessen, Chairman, Jebsen & Jessen (SEA).
Integration will also help ASEAN firms expand outward, in Asia and beyond. “Singapore lacks manpower. Malaysia and Indonesia, even Vietnam, have that resource that we can tap on,” said Mr. Tong Chong Heong, CEO, Keppel Offshore & Marine, expressing his hope of seeing more joint ventures by ASEAN firms to penetrate new markets.
However, the conclusion is that the region still has a long way to go. Both governments and the private sector still need to promote productivity and competitiveness.
The issue of sustainability was another key focus of the 6th AAF, in light of the record levels of haze caused by forest fires in Sumatra this year. Panellists from palm oil and resource sector companies at the forum agreed that the industry needs to strengthen its culture of responsibility.