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Can the ASEAN Economic Community Retain its Vision in a Post-Pandemic World?

CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (“CARI”) hosted the CARI Briefings webinar under its COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan Series, titled “How Can ASEAN Bounce Back: Can the ASEAN Economic Community Retain its Vision in a Post-Pandemic World?” The session featured H.E. Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN. Moderated by Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of CARI, the discussion centred on what ASEAN is doing to sustain the economies of member countries, its regional response and coordination towards a robust post-pandemic recovery and efforts to sustain momentum to achieve its vision.

1. ASEAN remains committed to its community-building agenda and multilateral cooperation amid the pandemic H.E. Dato Lim Jock Hoi began his session by stressing the significance of the region’s early commitment to cooperate instead of turning inward amid the pandemic. “ASEAN will continue to work together, including with external partners and partner institutions. This demonstrates ASEAN’s commitment to multilateral cooperation to effectively address the expansive implications of this unprecedented threat,” he said.

The spread and impact of the pandemic knows no boundaries, hence a coordinated response and closer cooperation is required even more. ASEAN has taken steps to work together, among member states as well as dialogue partners. The bloc just held its 36th ASEAN Summit virtually and adopted a vision statement, which recognises the social and economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and reaffirmed ASEAN Leaders’ strong commitment to sustain the momentum of ASEAN community building. ASEAN Leaders also announced the establishment of a COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund and the development of a comprehensive recovery plan.

2. Private sector’s role is indispensable in post-pandemic economic recovery
“Coordination for reopening and post-pandemic recovery is critical given the region’s high level of economic integration and interconnectedness. The private sector will play an integral role in these efforts, to restore employment, business confidence, and in working towards a swift and strong recovery,” commented Dato Lim Jock Hoi.

At the 36th Summit recently, ASEAN recognised the crucial role of the private sector in post- pandemic economic recovery, and aimed to foster cross-pillar and cross-sectoral collaboration within ASEAN as well as with relevant stakeholders to ensure a coordinated response to the pandemic.

Earlier, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council has proposed for the regional bloc to set up an ASEAN High-Level Special Commission (AHLSC) to expedite the decision-making process with regard to the region’s post-pandemic recovery plan. The mechanism on how to move forward with the proposal is under discussion to avoid overlaps with the existing ASEAN mechanism.

3. Post-pandemic recovery an opportunity to reassess ASEAN’s growth trajectory Dato Lim Jock Hoi noted the unprecedented health and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but highlighted the opportunity presented for the region to reassess its path. “ASEAN post-pandemic recovery is an opportunity for the region to recalibrate its growth trajectory to one that is more resilient, digitally-enabled, inclusive, and sustainable,” said Dato Lim Jock Hoi. Among the most striking trend is the acceleration of digital technology adoption during the pandemic, which offered added impetus and urgency for ASEAN to embrace new technologies and address the digital divide across and within ASEAN member states.

The opportunity to recalibrate growth comes at the midway point of the second ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025 as ASEAN goes through the Mid-term Review this year to evaluate its past progress and plan for the future. The region is also at a critical period given the commencement of the development of a consolidated strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the final preparation stage of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) towards its signing.