President's Newsletter - October 2019

President's Newsletter

October 2019 
Dear Members,

The Council had a busy September, including engagements with three ASEAN heads of state over three missions in Southeast Asia, a week of meetings and events around the UN General Assembly in New York City and the Singapore launch of ASEAN Matters publication.

I have just returned from one of these three missions - our 2019 Myanmar Business Mission. The successful mission included engagements in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay. The mission also coincided with the launch of the national transition to Unicode, in which our affiliate, the US ICT Council for Myanmar, has been involved. The exciting transition will put Myanmar in step with the font system underpinning international communications, setting up the country’s digital economy for increased growth.

The 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) was, as always, a September headliner. ASEAN leaders traveled to New York City for UNGA and the Council created a number of opportunities for high-level engagements with them.  The Council co-hosted a dinner and reception in honor of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on September 25 during his first visit to the United States after being re-elected Prime Minister, and we engaged a second time with recently appointed Thai Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi.  The following evening, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad met Council members for a roundtable discussion during which he emphasized his party’s progress toward addressing the country’s finances and readiness to work with businesses. 

Malaysia is open for business and eager to find partners to grow our digital economy,” Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir told US-ABC members during the roundtable.  “You can expect a Malaysia that listens to the private sector.  We are a business-friendly nation"

On the sidelines of UNGA, the Council also engaged Indonesian Vice President H.E. H.M. Jusuf Kalla for a business networking event with the U.S. Chamber, American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, the Consulate General of Indonesia and KADIN Indonesia U.S. Committee (KIKAS).  The Council took the opportunity to hold a private dinner with Minister of Health of Vietnam H.E. Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, and a working lunch with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao PDR H.E. Saleumxay Kommasith, Lao Ambassador to the United States H.E. Kamphan Anlavan, and Lao Ambassador to the UN H.E. Dr. Khiane Phansourivong.  I also met Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information Technology H.E. Rudiantara for a private breakfast to discuss several outstanding laws regarding the digital economy.

The November 4 Indo-Pacific Business Forum (IPBF) garnered plenty of high-level attention at UNGA. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Energy, Growth and the Environment Keith Krach expressed plans to rally participation of tech CEOs in the IPBF while introducing Prime Minister Prayut during the Council’s reception on the sidelines of UNGA.  The Under Secretary has been a long time fixture in Silicon Valley and is a confirmed speaker for the IPBF.  Other confirmed speakers at the IPBF include U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency Thomas Hardy, and David Bohigian, Acting President, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation.  The Council, partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has sent a sponsorship invitation for IPBF sideline events and an exclusive VIP dinner.  David Stilwell, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, encouraged U.S. Congressional participation in the IPBF while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 18.

“The Forum will reinforce the benefits of partnering with the dynamic U.S. private sector and the importance of high standard development, transparency, and the rule of law,” Assistant Secretary Stilwell told Senators.  “We have already sent out invitations to nearly 400 U.S. companies in many of your districts, and I welcome you to join us.”

Meanwhile, ASEAN and several ASEAN Member States are making major strides in reshaping national policies to attract foreign investment.  On September 11, the Cabinet of Thailand approved a relocation package to incentivize foreign investors to redirect their investments in either new supply chain nodes or sourcing locations from China to Thailand.  The Philippines Congress is also deliberating on the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA) bill, which includes a comprehensive plan to reduce corporate income tax.  Vietnam continues to draw investors with its incentives menu focused on science and high-tech sectors.  Analysts have pointed out the contribution of foreign direct investment in Vietnam’s most recent quarterly GDP growth figure rising above 7 percent, prompting economists to upgrade their full-year growth forecasts this month.

Growth forecasts for the Philippines and Singapore, on the other hand, reflect economies more prone to negative effects of the global trade downturn.  In response, policymakers in both maritime countries are leaning toward creating competitive digital ecosystems.  Singapore, while potentially looking at entering a technical recession, was just named the world’s second most competitive digital economy.  Around the time of the August APEC Senior Officials' Meeting in Chile, the Philippines submitted a Notice of Intent to join the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) System, a government-backed data privacy certification and voluntary accountability system that expands trading opportunities within the Asia Pacific region by eliminating data-flow barriers through the adoption of common standards for data privacy.  The Council’s Ambassador Michael W. Michalak explained to BusinessMirror that in American firms’ evaluation criteria when looking to invest in ASEAN, cross-border data flows and sensible privacy legislation hold considerable weight, in addition to investment incentive menus.  Ambassador Michalak noted the Philippines is a pioneer in privacy legislation.

As ASEAN Member States develop regulations around digital data governance, the Council advocates extensively for the adoption of international best practices and standards.  Earlier this year, Ambassador Michalak wrote an op-ed in the Business Times on ASEAN’s data privacy conundrum.  The Council on August 23 launched a new white paper, “Digital Data Governance in ASEAN: Key Elements for a Data Driven Economy,” to provide several recommendations for implementing ASEAN’s Framework on Digital Data Governance.  The white paper was launched around the ASEAN Telecommunications and Information Technology Senior Officials and ASEAN Telecommunications Regulators’ Council Leaders’ Retreat in Bangkok.  On October 2, the Council held a working breakfast with the 4th ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity in Singapore after a successful first engagement last year.  The Council will lead a mission to the ASEAN Telecommunications Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane October 23-25.

The Council just concluded its 2019 Business Mission to the 41st ASEAN Ministerial on Agriculture and Forestry.  Next up, we look forward to meeting ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in Washington for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Annual Meetings October 18-19.  The Council will hold an event with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno tomorrow on the sidelines of the Annual Meetings. 

We have many more events packed into the remaining months of the year.  I encourage you to see our full calendar below.

- Alex
October Highlights
In the front row, from left to right: Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary General H.E. Dato' Sri Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Dato' Saifuddin Abdullah, Prime Minister H.E. Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Minister of Economic Affairs H.E. Dato' Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, Ambassador of Malaysia to the United States of America H.E. Dato' Azmil Mohd Zabidi and members of the US-ABC and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On September 26, the US-ABC and U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted the roundtable on the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly in New York, marking the Prime Minister Mahathir's second engagement with the US-ABC and U.S. Chamber of Commerce around the UNGA since his reelection last year. Discussion centered on the Malaysian government’s focus on strengthening’s the country’s economic fundamentals, increasing productivity and promoting sustainable and inclusive growth. 
From left to right: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell, Ambassador Todd Chapman, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources Francis R. Fannon, US-ABC President and CEO Alexander Feldman, and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha meet during a reception, followed by a dinner, held in the Prime Minister’s honor on the sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York City on September 25. 
Delegates on the 2019 Philippines Business Mission made a day trip to New Clark City, marking the first time the mission brought delegates outside of metro Manila.  Other missions have also recently included an infrastructure and development focus.  Delegates on the US-ABC's 2019 Thailand Business Mission traveled to the Eastern Economic Corridor for a site visit. The US-ABC brought members on a similar infrastructure site visit during the 2019 Myanmar Business Mission.
From left to right:  Facebook Head of Public Policy-Myanmar Khoe Reh, US ICT Council for Myanmar Executive Director Max Shu Teasdale, US-ABC President and CEO Alexander Feldman, Google Public Policy and Government Relations Manager, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia Jirawat Poomsrikaew and Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meet at an event marking the launch of the national transition to Unicode. US-ABC affiliate, the US ICT Council for Myanmar, has been involved in the font transition, which will put Myanmar in step with the international system underpinning global communications and setting up the country’s digital economy for increased growth.
Country, Industry and Advocacy Updates

Key Developments

  • ASEAN Member States Encouraging Investors Relocating Investments from China Amid U.S.-China Trade Tensions:  On September 11, the Thai Cabinet approved a relocation package to incentivize foreign investors to redirect their investments in either new supply chain nodes or sourcing locations from China to Thailand.  Read more.  Ambassador Michael W. Michalak also discussed with BusinessMirror Vietnam’s enhanced incentives packages and the Philippines’ national data privacy legislation as factors American firms consider in investment decision-making. 
  • Thailand to Open First Anti-Fake News Center by November:  Thailand is poised to establish an anti-fake news center, set to open by November 1.  The center, which will be under the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, will be operated by ministry staff, state enterprise personnel, civil society groups, university staff, and the Thai Journalists Association.  Read more.
  • Philippines Seeking APEC CBPR Certification:  The Philippines has submitted its Notice of Intent to join the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR).  Once companies are certified as compliant by an APEC-recognized accountability agent, businesses can transfer personal data safely to other certified companies within APEC, decreasing compliance costs in cross-border data transfers.  Read more.
  • Thailand to Form PM-led 5G Panel, Joining Ranks of Regional 5G Implementation Committees:  Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) wrote to Prime Minister Prayut requesting the formation of a national 5G strategy committee to ensure nationwide adoption by 2020.  The committee would be chaired by the Prime Minister and include members from the Commerce and Industry ministries and private-sector companies.  In the region, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have also established similar committees dedicated to 5G implementation.  Read more about adoption of 5G across ASEAN here.
  • Vietnam’s National Assembly Standing Committee to Discuss Draft PPP law:  On September 16, the Ministry of Planning and Investment submitted a Draft Law on Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) to the National Assembly Standing Committee.  The law looks to revise how PPP projects are developed and imposes a ban on projects in certain sectors the government has predetermined as unfit for a PPP model or which would better suit other types of investment.  The Council will continue to follow this development as the draft law is anticipated to be submitted for discussion in October 2019.  Read more.
  • EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) to Go Into Force in Early 2020:  The EVFTA was signed in June this year.  After the agreement goes into force, it will remove 99 percent of tariffs over the next seven to ten years.  While this agreement is one of the highest commitment levels Vietnam has received in its free trade agreements, the EU remains one of the hardest markets to enter for Vietnamese firms due to certain non-tariff requirements and standards.  Read more.
  • Singapore Kicks Off Preparations for General Elections with Formation of Panel for Constituencies:  As of September 4, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) has officially been formed, marking the first step to the next general election.  The EBRC reviews constituency boundaries and makes suggestions regarding new group representation constituencies (GRCs) and single member constituencies (SMCs) based on demographic changes.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has been in power since 2004, has stated that this upcoming election will be the last in which he leads the People’s Action Party (PAP), and many analysts see this election as an endorsement for the next generation of political leadership.  This next generation, popularly referred to as the "fourth-generation leaders," or simply 4G, will represent only the fourth political transition since Singapore's independence in 1959.  Consequently, there is much speculation on exactly how this new government will look, and what it means for the political status quo that has been maintained over the last 50 years.  Read more.
  • Plans to Relocate Indonesia’s Capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan Begin to Take Shape:  In response to concerns over the long-term sinking of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced on August 26 that a new capital would be built in East Kalimantan. President Jokowi plans for construction of the new capital to start next year and expects the full transition of the capital to be completed by 2024.  The location will be built across the Kutai Kartanegara and Penajam Paser Utara regencies, near the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda.  Read more.
  • Industry 4.0 Initiatives Announced at 2019 ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meetings: In response to the increasingly unpredictable global economy, a consequence of trade disputes and shifting trade patterns, the Ministers urged for a greater push towards regional economic integration, especially to boost economic resilience and readiness in coping with the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). In this stream, the Ministers adopted the ASEAN Declaration on Industrial Transformation to Industry 4.0, the ASEAN Guideline on Skilled Labour/Professional Services Development in Response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework Action Plan (DIFAP) 2019-2025. The latter provides the detailed measures to implement the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework across six priority areas.  The Ministers also expressed support for the development of a consolidated strategy on the 4IR for ASEAN. Read more
Current Advocacy
  • Indonesia GR-82 Bill Signed: The Council understands that President Jokowi has signed an amendment to Government Regulation No. 82/2012 on the Implementation of Electronic Systems and Transactions (GR 82), which originally required designated “Electronic System Operators” to have data centers and disaster recovery centers in Indonesia. Based on a conversation Alex had with Minister Rudiantara, the signed GR 82 amendment is based on the August 2019 draft, which greatly eased requirements for storing most types of commercial data in Indonesia. However, in the August 2019 draft, financial services data was to be regulated by the Bank of Indonesia and OJK separately. The Council is in the process of obtaining the signed amendment and will continue to monitor the situation. Contact: Mega Valentina (
  • Proposal to Establish a Public-Private Working Group on High-Quality & Safe Infrastructure in ASEAN:  The Council will lead a business delegation to the 25th ASEAN Transport Ministers’ Meeting in Hanoi November 14-15 and take the opportunity to present and review our proposal to establish a Public-Private Working Group on High Quality & Safe Infrastructure Projects.  The objective is to ultimately garner the endorsement of the proposal by the 10 ASEAN Ministers of Transport, Senior Officials and the ASEAN Secretariat’s Transport Division.  Contact: Sunita Kapoor (
  • Indonesia Cybersecurity Draft Law Dropped:  In September, the Council provided a joint submission with BSA | The Software Alliance on the Draft Law Concerning Cyber Security and Resilience to the Government of Indonesia. The comments were submitted on behalf of members of both the Council and BSA and advocated for cyber security legislation and frameworks that accommodate data-driven innovation. On September 27, the Parliament chose to drop the enactment of the Cyber Security and Resilience Bill until the next parliamentary session. The Council will continue to follow the development of this draft law. Contact: Michaela Wong (
  • Consultative dialogue with Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI):  The Council, with other chambers and trade associations, engaged in a consultative dialogue hosted by MITI with representatives from many of the Government of Malaysia’s key agencies.  The dialogue was a chance to provide input on issues affecting the business environment, including in areas of customs, Halal regulations and pharmaceutical pricing.  A Summary of Issues and Recommendations was presented and discussed.  Contact: Tina Jamaluddin (
  • US-ABC Presents Report on Digital Technology for ASEAN Energy:  During its Business Mission to the ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting (AMEM), the Council presented a report prepared jointly with ASEAN-USAID IGNITE, the ASEAN Centre for Energy, and the Regional Energy Policy & Planning Sub-Sector Network at the 37th ASEAN Energy Business Forum.  The report, "Digital Technology for ASEAN Energy:  How Digitalization can Address ASEAN's Power Sector Challenges," intends to help ASEAN and ASEAN member states address high-priority power sector challenges through increased digitalization.  The report received a mention in the Joint Ministerial Statement of the 37th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting, with the Ministers noting the completion of the report and that they look forward to the report’s recommendations.  The report will be publicly released in the coming months.  Contact: Riley Smith (
Relationship Building
  • Roundtable with Vietnam Trade Promotion Delegation (Vietrade - MOIT):  On October 8, the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency (Vietrade) under the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) led a delegation of government officials and business leaders to Washington, D.C. as part of its trade promotion tour across the United States, with stops in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. The Council hosted a Roundtable with the delegation to discuss business, trade and investment opportunities and cooperation with Vietnam in 2020 and beyond.  For more information on the tour and delegation list, please visit the website here.
  • Roundtable on Launch of New Book on ASEAN by Ambassador David Carden:  The Council was privileged to host a roundtable on October 8 with David L. Carden, former Ambassador to the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, to discuss his new book “Mapping ASEAN: Achieving Peace, Prosperity and Sustainability in Southeast Asia.”  The book describes, or “maps,” the many human and natural systems upon which the region depends, how they relate and affect one another, and the multilateral mechanisms and approaches needed to manage both the opportunities and challenges they present.
  • Welcoming Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi, Ambassador of Thailand to the United States:  On October 7, the Council was pleased to host a Welcome Luncheon for H.E. Thani Thonphakdi, Ambassador of Thailand to the United States.  Ambassador Thani has already enjoyed a distinguished diplomatic career, most recently as Deputy Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand (2017-2019) and previously as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office and Other International Organizations in Geneva (2012-2017).  He has also served as Director-General of the Department of Information and Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, and as Counsellor and Minister-Counsellor for Political and Economic Affairs in the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. (2001-2004).  Ambassador Thani's full biography can be found here.
  • “Innovation without Limits: Advancing Indonesian Entrepreneurs’ Competitiveness” Workshop for Indonesian and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)On October 3, the Council held its second Innovation for SMEs Workshop in Indonesia.  More than 100 Indonesian SME owners and executives, tech entrepreneurs, local government officials and academics from South Tangerang and neighboring cities participated.  The Council conducted the workshop in collaboration with the Center for Research Science and Technology (PUSPIPTEK), a unit under Indonesian Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education.  Since 2011, the Council has conducted more than 48 SME Workshops across ASEAN.  See the press release.
  • Roundtable with H.E. Tran Tuan Anh, Minister of Industry and Trade of Vietnam:  The Council was pleased to host Minister Tran Tuan Anh on October 1 during his visit to Washington, D.C. for Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA)-related meetings with the U.S. Government. The Minister has been tasked with supporting the Government of Vietnam's goals to improve commercial and trade relations between the United States and Vietnam and reduce the overall trade deficit.  Members were able meet the Minister and the TIFA delegation to discuss key challenges and solutions toward improving trade relations and reduce trade barriers.
  • 2019 Myanmar Business Mission: During the mission, delegates met with local and central government officials in both Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw. The 2019 mission also included an inaugural trip to Mandalay, where the delegation visited major infrastructure projects that are under construction. The mission coincided with the launch of the national font migration to Unicode, in which Council affiliate, the US ICT Council for Myanmar, has been involved. The exciting transition puts Myanmar in step with the font system that underpins international communications, setting the country’s digital economy on a path for increased growth. 
  • 74th UN General Assembly (UNGA) Sideline Engagements:  The Council, partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, held events to honor ASEAN leaders among those gathered in New York City for the 74th session of UNGA.  Highlights included a dinner and reception in honor of Thai Prime Minister H.E. General Prayut Chan-o-cha (ret.) and a roundtable for Malaysian Prime Minister H.E. Tun Dr. Mohamad Mahathir.  The Council also engaged H.E. H.M. Jusuf Kalla, Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia for a business networking event with the U.S. Chamber, the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, the Consulate General of Indonesia and KADIN Indonesia US Committee (KIKAS).  The Council took the opportunity to hold a private dinner with Minister of Health of Vietnam H.E. Nguyen Thi Kim Tien and a working lunch with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao PDR H.E. Saleumxay Kommasith. Lao Ambassador to the United States H.E. Kamphan Anlavan and Lao Ambassador to the UN H.E. Dr. Khiane Phansourivong joined the lunch with members. The Council met Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information Technology H.E. Rudiantara for a private breakfast to discuss several outstanding laws regarding the digital economy.
  • Adam S. Boehler Confirmed as first CEO of U.S. International Development Finance Corporation: The Senate confirmed Adam Boehler on September 26 as the first CEO of the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which is a new U.S. Government agency created by the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act, signed into law by President Trump in October 2018. The press release notes DFC “modernizes reforms the U.S. Government’s development finance capabilities – primarily the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Development Credit Authority (DCA) of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).”
  • Singapore Launch of “ASEAN Matters for America” Publication:  The East-West Center (EWC), the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and the Council launched the 4th edition of the “ASEAN Matters for America/America Matters for ASEAN” publication in Singapore following the Washington, D.C. release of the publication in July.  The publication can be accessed here.  The Singapore launch highlighted the 51 additional ASEAN Matters one-page information fact sheets detailing ASEAN’s relationship with each American state and the District of Columbia.  Speakers included Director of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Mr. Choi Shing Kwok, Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director of the US-ASEAN Business Council Ambassador Michael W. Michalak, President, Asia Pacific of MSD Ms. Dorthe Mikkelsen and Vice President and Director of the East West Center Dr. Satu Limaye.  The launch also featured a panel discussion with Ambassador Michalak, U.S. Charge d’Affaires to Singapore Rafik Mansour and Professor Joseph Liow Chin Yong of Nanyang Technological University on the state of U.S.-ASEAN and Southeast Asia relations.  See the press release.
  • White House Announces Intent to Nominate U.S. Ambassador to Singapore: On September 19, President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate Barbera Hale Thornhill of California to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Singapore. Barbera Hale Thornhill currently serves as president of Impact Design, a business-focused interior design firm in Los Angeles, California.  She is an active member of the Getty Research Institute Council, the Getty Paintings Council, the World Affairs Council and the Pacific Council on International Policy. 
Looking Ahead
Upcoming Events See our full calendar
Media Highlights
Did you know that there is a sizable population that are elderly in Singapore? Among those senior citizens, 84% own a smart phone, but only a fraction use their mobile devices beyond communications. In our seventh episode of the American Corporate Excellence (ACE) video series, find out how American company Visa actively engages aging Singaporeans to ensure that everyone can participate in the digital future. The ACE video series showcases American companies that have outstanding corporate social responsibility initiatives; high standards for quality, reliability, and partnership; produce innovative products and services; and employ and train exceptional individuals.

ACE is brought to you by U.S. Embassy Singapore and the US-ASEAN Business Council. #AmericanCorporateExcellence
Membership Update
We are pleased to welcome on four new members to the Council on October 1:  Elanco Animal Healthcare, SAP, Roche and Palo Alto Networks.  Roche has joined at the Corporate level, and Elanco, SAP and Palo Alto Networks have joined at the Chairman’s Council level.  The Council now has 75 Corporate members and 89 Chairman’s Council members.
Country and Industry Updates
See our most recent Updates and Analysis for more detail:
Customs & Trade Facilitation
Defense & Security
Financial Services
Food & Agriculture
Health & Life Sciences
Information & Communications Technology
Travel & Tourism