President's Newsletter - February 2019

Alexander C. Feldman
Alexander C. Feldman
President & CEO
US-ASEAN Business Council

Dear Members, 

The Council mourns the loss of The Honorable Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor and Chairman of the Monetary Board, who passed away on February 23, 2019 after a battle with cancer.   BSP Governor Espenilla was a great friend of the Council and our members.   He first joined BSP in 1981 and climbed the ranks of the Central Bank steadily to ultimately become the Philippines top central bank official when he was nominated by President Duterte to become Governor on July 3, 2017.   We will greatly miss Governor Espenilla’s leadership and outreach.  We send our deepest condolences to the Espenilla family and to the people of the Philippines.

We at the Council have started the year on a strong note as we wrap up February and look forward to yet another full month ahead.  In the coming weeks, we anticipate a major summit, a major election and several planned engagements in the region as well as receiving incoming ambassadors and esteemed visitors here in Washington, D.C.

To conclude January, the Council launched our new Manufacturing Committee and ran a highly successful Business Mission to Brunei.  From meetings with Brunei officials during the Business Mission, the Council was encouraged to learn that a legislative overhaul is underway, signaling progress in laying the groundwork for CPTPP ratification later this year.  For more information on the Business Mission to Brunei please see our official press release here.  Please also see Manufacturing Committee press release here for more information.

This week, all eyes will be on Vietnam when U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un will meet in Hanoi for a second leaders’ summit.   Just before the summit, President Trump will hold a bilateral set of meetings with his hosts in Vietnam.  The White House has been briefed on the key business issues including our concerns with the Cybersecurity Law’s implementing regulations.  The growing trade deficit is also expected to be raised, which may open the door for more American sales.

The leaders’ second one-on-one meeting follows an unprecedented initial meeting in Singapore last June.  It is no coincidence that two of the most important meetings for the United States in Indo-Pacific are both being held in ASEAN.  We applaud Vietnam’s role in facilitating this dialogue to foster greater peace and cooperation.

Shortly after the summit, the Council will also head to Hanoi to lead our annual Vietnam Business Mission from March 12 - 14.  As of now, we have confirmed separate meetings with General Secretary and President of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.  This year’s visit to Hanoi will not only feature our robust three-day business mission but will also feature a separate, half day Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Workshop as well as a one and half day Health and Life Sciences focused-industry mission, also in Hanoi, on March 14-15.  Later in March, the Council will hold a series of workshops as part of our Post ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting Roadshow in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

The spotlight will next move to Thailand as Thais head to the polls on March 24.  A little more than six weeks away from the poll date, the King’s older sister, Princess Ubolratana, had a brief nomination for and subsequent disqualification from being the Thai Raksa Chart party’s premiership candidate.  This development was met with a statement from King Maha Vajiralongkorn that characterized royal involvement in politics as “extremely inappropriate.”  Although this was an unprecedented move, it appears evident that the Thai Government is committed to moving forward with elections on March 24.  The Council wishes Thailand a smooth election ahead and will update members on results, which are expected in early May after the formal Coronation of King Rama X from May 4-6.

Indonesia’s elections are also on the horizon.  On April 17, 193 million eligible voters will take to the polls for Indonesia’s first simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, with official results to be announced in mid-September.  President Joko Widodo is running for reelection with senior Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate against former General Prabowo Subianto and former Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno.  Jokowi is leading in opinion polls but the gap is narrowing following the presidential debate on February 16.   Recent surveys showing General Prabowo’s electability rising by 4.8 percent in the past month.  The Council is monitoring developments and will keep members updated.

In Washington, we look forward to extending several significant welcomes. Next month, we will welcome three new Ambassadors to Washington:  Malaysian Ambassador Dato Azmil Mohd Zabidi (see bio here), Indonesian Ambassador Mahendra Siregar (see bio here) and Laos Ambassador Khamphan Anlavan (see bio here).  

For those of you in Washington D.C., be sure to note upcoming visits from Cambodian Senior Minister of Public Works H.E. Sun Chanthol and Singapore Minister of Trade Chan Chun Sing.  On February 26, we will host a working luncheon with Cambodian Senior Minister of Public Works H.E. Sun Chanthol. For more information on tomorrow’s luncheon, please contact Jack Myint, jmyint@usasean.org.  On March 20, we will host a luncheon in honor of Singapore Minister of Trade Chan Chun Sing. Please contact Lilibeth Almonte-Arbez at lalmonte@usasean.org for more information on our March 20 luncheon.  

I also want to highlight a very special opportunity to help promote a better understanding of the importance of ASEAN to the United States and the United States to ASEAN.  I am pleased to announce that sponsorship is now open for the fourth edition of the “ASEAN Matters for America: America Matters for ASEAN” publication.  "ASEAN Matters" highlights the essential importance of ASEAN to America’s economic, trade, investment, strategic, political and people to people interests.  Since its first release, "ASEAN Matters" has proved to be one of the most cited studies by both U.S. and ASEAN government officials.  With the seating of the 116th Congress, the timing of this edition could not be better.  In partnership with the East-West Center and the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, the Council is launching a revised and expanded publication in April 2019.  Please contact Kathi Lunardi at klunardi@usasean.org to learn more.

Highlights

Looking Ahead

  • Luncheon in honor of Cambodian Senior Minister Sun Chanthol, February 26:  Cambodian Senior Minister for Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol will be in Washington per Prime Minister Hun Sen's directive to engage with the U.S. government, Congress and the private sector.  Register here for the event or contact Jack Myint at jmyint@usasean.org for more information.
  • Vietnam Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Workshop, March 12:  The Government of Vietnam is actively seeking comments and technical assistance on both the draft cybersecurity decree and a new draft data privacy decree.  To provide the means for industry to provide this input, the Council is organizing a half-day workshop. For more information, please contact Vu Tu Thanh at tvu@usasean.org.
  • Vietnam Business Mission, March 12-14:  The Council is currently registering members for its annual Business Mission to Vietnam.  The deadline to register is February 26.  For more information or to express interest, please contact Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.
  • Health and Life Sciences (HLS) Industry Mission to Vietnam, March 14-15:  For more information, please contact Lucius Lee at llee@usasean.org or Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.
  • Mission to the ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, April 4-5:  For the 20th consecutive year, Council will lead a mission to the ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting in Chiang Rai, Thailand.  For more information, please contact Michaela Wong at mwong@usasean.org.

Advocacy

  • The Council has consistently used a variety of channels to advocate to the Government of the Philippines for investments, policies and regulations which support an enabling ecosystem for digital economy growth.  Recently, the Council joined other business groups in supporting the passage of Senate Bill 1763, “Open Access in Data Transmission Bill.”  This legislation was one of several recommendations in a Broadband Development policy brief we co-sponsored in 2016.
  • The Council joined the U.S. Council for International Business, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Foreign Trade Council in transmitting a letter for submission to the WTO regarding the Government of Thailand’s appeal in Thailand – Customs and Fiscal Measures affecting Cigarettes from the Philippines.  The Council has worked with the U.S. Government in various advocacy efforts to resolve this customs dispute, which has impacted the business activities of members in Thailand at the national, regional and multilateral levels.
  • On my most recent visit to Indonesia, I was able to use selected face-to-face meetings with Government of Indonesia trade and finance policy officials to successfully and directly advocate for Council members facing tax compliance challenges in the insurance industry and import regulatory challenges in the food and beverage industry.

Membership

January and February have been busy months for the Membership team.  The Council has welcomed seven new members:  FTI Consulting, Mylan, Speyside Group, Symantec and Udemy have all joined at the Corporate level; and Diageo and VMWare have joined at the Chairman’s Council level.  Boeing and Facebook both upgraded to Chairman’s Council, bringing total membership to 159:  71 Corporate members and 88 Chairman’s Council members.

Regional Highlights

APEC

Looking Ahead

  • Privacy Workshop, February 25:  Click here for the agenda for the Privacy Workshop during the first Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM1).  
  • NCAPEC Executive Roundtable, March 1: The NCAPEC Executive Roundtable in Atlanta will underscore Chile’s focus on the digital economy and be held under the theme “Enabling a Digital Economy.”  The agenda and registration details are available here.  To attend, please contact jyang@ncapec.org.
  • Data Ecosystem Workshop, March 2:  Click here for the agenda for the Data Ecosystem Workshop at the APEC Business Advisory Council Meeting in Atlanta.  NCAPEC is working with ABAC Japan to discuss the “APEC Roadmap for a New Financial Services Data Ecosystem” ahead of the Finance Ministers’ Meeting.  More on the Asia-Pacific Financial Forum Data Ecosystem Roadmap is available here.  To attend, please contact jyang@ncapec.org.
  • Digital Trade Workshop, March 2:  Click here for the agenda for the March 2 Digital Trade Workshop during SOM1.  Contact Ann Katsiak for details or speaking opportunities at akatsiak@nathaninc.com.

View the Council's latest APEC updates

CPTPP

Major Developments

With the CPTPP going into force last month in two ASEAN nations - Singapore and Vietnam - an additional variable is now on the table for companies researching opportunities to adjust their supply chains to navigate the U.S.-China tariff conflict.  

Advocacy

During our 2019 Senior Executives Business mission to Brunei, I gave an interview to highlight the importance of the CPTPP to promote Brunei's foreign direct investment competitiveness and economic diversification agenda, and the CPTPP was a discussion item in multiple meetings with the government. The Bloomberg Law article can be accessed here.    

Looking Ahead

In the second quarter, the Council is planning to host a discussion with Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Industry YB Datuk Ignatius Darell Leiking, and the CPTPP will be a discussion agenda item. For more information, please contact Kim Yaeger at kyaeger@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest CPTPP updates

Industry Highlights

Customs

Major Developments

Vietnam Customs is looking to implement comprehensive reforms to strengthen the customs-private sector partnership and promote activities that facilitate import and export activities, including adopting modern technologies, implementing an automatic customs supervision system and connecting more domestic ministries to its National Single Window, according to its Deputy Director General Hoang Viet Cuong.  For more information, see our update here.

View the Council's latest Customs updates

Defense & Security

Major Developments

The Philippines Government is currently considering a review of its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States. Under the existing treaty, Manila and Washington are bound to aid each other in the event of an attack by a third party. However, the treaty's role beyond the Philippines’ metropolis, particularly in disputed territories of the South China Sea, remains ambiguous. The proposed review of the MDT can be seen in two different lights: Either it is a way to further separate the Philippines from the United States as part of the Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy and pivot towards China, or it could serve to strengthen the agreement by more clearly laying out the triggers and responsibilities of mutual defense, in effect tying Philippine and U.S. defense cooperation closer together.

View the Council's latest Defense & Security updates

Energy

Major Developments

After three years in development, Thailand’s new Power Development Plan (PDP) 2018-2037 was approved on January 24 by the National Energy Policy Council (NEPC).  The new PDP emphasizes increasing power generation by private companies, strengthening grid security, and setting Thailand up to be either a power purchasing hub or a regional grid connection for the neighboring countries of Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia.  The new PDP sees Thailand’s power production capacity increase by roughly 65 percent with the largest portion of this new capacity coming from renewable energy power plants.  More information on Thailand’s PDP can be found here.

View the Council's latest Energy updates

Financial Services

Major Developments

  • Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani announced that the Director General of Taxation will release further details around Regulation No. 210/PMK.010/2018 on the tax treatment of commercial transactions by means of electronic systems (e-commerce tax), scheduled to enter into effect on April 1.  Minister Mulyani clarified that online merchants affected by the new regulations will not have to provide tax numbers (NPWPs) or citizenship identity numbers (NIKs) to authorities.  For more information, see our update here.

Looking Ahead

  • Mission to the ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, April 4-5:  For the 20th consecutive year, Council will lead a mission to the ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting in Chiang Rai, Thailand.  For more information, please contact Michaela Wong at mwong@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Financial Services updates

Food & Agriculture

Advocacy

In the Philippines, the Council is currently working with the Global Alliance of Pet Food Associations (GAPFA) to submit a joint advocacy letter to the Office of Senator Binay to provide comments on Senate Bill No. 2068, the "Pet Food Additive Information Act."  Senator Binay submitted the bill in October 2018.  In its proposed form, the bill requires certain labeling requirements on pet food products that are not aligned with international standards.  For more information, please contact Sunita Kapoor at skapoor@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Food & Agriculture updates

Health & Life Sciences

Major Developments

  • On December 31, 2018, the Vietnamese Ministry of Health issued two new decrees – Decree No.155 and Decree No.169 – revising regulations under Decree No.54 and Decree No.36, respectively.  These new decrees aim to help simplify and expedite processes in labelling, certification and licensing in drug imports and medical equipment for foreign businesses.  With these new policies, the Vietnamese government hopes that foreign companies will be more incentivized to enter its market, which has grown 10 percent year-on-year and is expected to continue its double-digit growth over the next five years.  For more information, see our update here.

Advocacy

Thank you to all members who submitted input to the draft Healthcare MOU between the Council and the Philippines Department of Health (DOH).  The draft MOU has been transmitted back to the DOH for review, and we will update members on the next steps once the DOH responds.

Looking Ahead

Health and Life Sciences (HLS) Industry Mission to Vietnam, March 14-15:  For more information, please contact Lucius Lee at llee@usasean.org or Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Health & Life Sciences updates

ICT

Major Developments

  • On January 23, Singapore released the Proposed Model Artificial Intelligence Framework at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Singapore’s Information Media Development Authority (IMDA) hopes industries using AI will adopt the model voluntarily to ensure corporate transparency and uphold their responsibility to protect consumers.  For more information, see our recent ICT Update here.
  • Singapore’s IMDA is collaborating with AI Singapore to review AI solutions that will facilitate the economy’s digital transformation.  IMDA initiatives include the National Speech Corpus V1.0, which will help companies develop Automatic Speech Recognition, and the Intelligent Sensing Toolbox, which will offer businesses open source code to help facilitate decision making.  For more information see our recent ICT Update here.
  • As of January 23, Thailand’s Draft Personal Data Protection Act and Cybersecurity Bill have been forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for approval.  The NLA will appoint a committee to review the bills, which will then be subject to the NLA’s final approval and signed into law by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn.  The law will come into effect 180 days after publication.  For more information, see our recent ICT update here.
  • On February 8, Thai authorities launched a Huawei Technologies 5G test bed in its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).  The deployment comes amid U.S. and international fears that Huawei – a Chinese firm – may engage in mass surveillance and espionage on its networks.  Thai authorities noted that cooperation with Huawei on the test bed did not mean Thailand did not have security concerns and that the test bed would allow Thailand to confirm or deny U.S. allegations before moving forward with broader deployment.  For more information, see our recent ICT Update here.

Advocacy

Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) announced it would amend the Decree on the Management, Provision and Use of Radio and Television Services (Decree 6/2016).  Following MIC’s publication of a draft decree for public review, the Council and industries submitted concerns, noting some of the provisions under Decree 6 would stifle growth and innovation in over-the-top services.  Details on the status of the decree have yet to be released.  For more information, see our recent ICT Update here.

Looking Ahead

Vietnam Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Workshop, March 12:  The Government of Vietnam is actively seeking comments and technical assistance on both the draft cybersecurity decree and a new draft data privacy decree.  To provide the means for industry to provide this input, the Council is organizing a half-day workshop.  For more information, please contact Vu Tu Thanh at tvu@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest ICT updates

Infrastructure

Major Developments

On January 22, the Thai Cabinet approved the development of the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC), which will cover 116 projects and have a budget of THB 106.79 billion (around US$3.39 billion). The development will last from 2019-2022 and take up approximately 300,000 square meters of land in the Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani and Nakhon Sri Thammarat provinces. The infrastructure development projects that have been announced as part of the SEC are similar to those that fall under the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), which covers the Chachoengsao, Chonburi and Rayong provinces in the upper Gulf of Thailand. The EEC complements the Thailand 4.0 initiative, which endeavors to fuel Thai economic growth through investments in new technologies and innovations. For more information, see our update here.

View the Council's latest Infrastructure updates

Manufacturing

Looking Ahead

Following its first planning calls on February 14 and 15, the Manufacturing Committee’s next steps are confirming committee leadership and creating recommendations for missions and priority markets.  If you have any questions about the Manufacturing Committee or the planning calls, please contact Marc Mealy at mmealy@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Manufacturing updates

Travel & Tourism

Major Developments

  • ASEAN estimates 129 million tourists visited the region in 2018, an increase of 7.6 percent from 2017.  Intra-ASEAN travel continued to be the major share of tourists, making up 37.2 percent of total international arrivals in 2017.  The UN World Tourism Organization puts ASEAN’s annual tourist arrival growth at seven percent, the highest in the Asia Pacific region.  The growing size of middle-income families, enhanced connectivity, increased visa facilitation, stability of fuel prices and proliferation of budget airlines are some of the other factors contributing to the growth.
  • Sustainability is an emerging theme in ASEAN tourism as it cuts across discussions on digital technology and connectivity.  Greater tourist arrivals in heritage sites and pristine environments create pressures on the environment and the capacity of authorities and local population to deal with rapid growth.  Philippines Secretary of Tourism Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and Thailand Minister of Tourism and Sports Weerasak Kowsurat have been vocal in addressing overcrowding and pollution and balancing business opportunities with social responsibility.
  • The Gastronomy Tourism Master Plan has been identified as one of the deliverables for Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship this year, with the creation of a sustainable gastronomy tourism guideline which could systematically address the sustainable food system and enhance the livelihoods of local communities.  Gastronomic tourism is an effective means of poverty reduction, resource efficiency, climate change mitigation and cultural protection. 

Advocacy

To support ASEAN capacity-building objectives and follow up on the Council’s mission to the 22nd ASEAN Tourism Ministerial Meetings in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam in January, the Council is developing proposals to introduce a digital transformation workstream in the ASEAN Tourism Competitiveness Committee (ATCC) and scale skills development and human capability-building in the ASEAN Tourism Professional Monitoring Committee (ATPMC).  For questions and more information, please contact Lilibeth Almonte-Arbez at lalmonte@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Travel & Tourism updates

Country Highlights

Brunei

Advocacy

From January 29-30, the Council led its 2019 Business Mission to Brunei Darussalam, aimed to further develop longstanding commercial ties between the United States and Brunei and focused on identifying opportunities with Brunei’s new cabinet.  During the mission, the Council advocated for Government of Brunei to successfully complete its domestic CPTPP ratification process.   Following the Business Mission, I gave an interview discussing Brunei’s CPTPP readiness. The Bloomberg Law article can be accessed here. For more information, see our press release here.

View the Council's latest Brunei updates

Cambodia

Major Developments

On January 9, Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL) re-introduced the Cambodia Human Rights Act to the U.S. House of Representatives, along with Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX).  The bill, known as HR5754, aims to apply travel restrictions and economic sanctions against individuals and entities that are directly affiliated with "undermining democracy and violating human rights" in Cambodia.  The Council's full analysis of the bill can be accessed here.

Looking Ahead

Luncheon in honor of H.E. Sun Chanthol, February 26:  US-ABC invites members to join a working luncheon with Cambodian Senior Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol on his visit to Washington, DC.  To register, please click here.

View the Council's latest Cambodia updates

Indonesia

Major Developments

  • Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani announced that the Director General of Taxation will release further details around Regulation No. 210/PMK.010/2018 on the tax treatment of commercial transactions by means of electronic systems (e-commerce tax), scheduled to enter into effect on April 1.  She clarified that online merchants affected by the new regulations will not have to provide tax numbers or citizenship identity numbers to authorities.  For more information, see our update here.

Advocacy

  • The Council is coordinating with the Ministry of Trade to gather input from members regarding the development of e-commerce in Indonesia and potential methods of maintaining an even playing field for off-line and on-line stores and services.
  • On my most recent visit to Indonesia, I was able to use meetings with Government of Indonesia trade and finance policy officials to successfully and directly advocate for Council members facing import regulatory challenges in the food and beverage industry.
  • The Council in coordination with the Indonesia Life Insurers Association (AAJI) and other trade associations met with Indonesia’s Fiscal Agency (BKF) and Director General of Taxation to discuss a recent interpretation in life insurance regulations in which expenses on claim payments to policy holders are not allowed to be charged as standard deductible expenses on tax returns.  AAJI prepared a calculation simulation which summarizes the current standards that can be used as the attachment of the previously issued Circular Letter No. S-607/PJ.03/ 2018 regarding Claim Expenses and Shared Cost Allocation in the Life Insurance Industry.  We hope that the Director General of Taxation will soon issue a written explanation that Claim and Benefits Expenses can be treated as tax-deductible expenses in order to calculate Corporate Income Tax of the life insurance companies.

View the Council's latest Indonesia updates

Laos

Major Developments

On January 25, 2019, the governments of Laos and China officially launched the “Visit Laos-China 2019” campaign, which aims to promote tourism and cultural exchange between the two countries.  The Government of Laos hopes the campaign will attract more than one million Chinese tourists in 2019 and around 4.5 million visitors in total.  The Visit Laos-China 2019 campaign is just the latest indication of Laos leaning more and more towards China as relations with the United States remain strained over repatriation issues.  For more information, see our recent Laos Update here.

View the Council's latest Laos updates

Malaysia

Major Developments

  • MP for Port Dickson and President of PKR (the People’s Justice Party) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim visited Washington, DC the week of February 10, speaking at Georgetown University, the Canadian Embassy in coordination with the National Endowment for Democracy, and the International Institute of Islamic Thought, with a focus on Malaysia’s historic political transition, anti-corruption and democracy-building.  It is still expected that Anwar will follow Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister but there is no insight yet on how and when the transition will occur.
  • A new economic body will be established in Malaysia to make decisions on economic issues and promote sustainable and inclusive growth, similar to the National Economic Action Council that was formed in 1998.  Prime Minister Mahathir has explained that the body will be set up to address the problem of “too many cooks” handling economic and investment matters, slowing down decision-making.  The new body is expected to review economic and financial matters affecting the public, including cost of living, employment, poverty and home ownership.  

View the Council's latest Malaysia updates

Myanmar

Major Developments

From January 28-29, the Myanmar government, in coordination with the UMFCCI (Myanmar’s biggest private sector lobby) hosted the Invest Myanmar Summit 2019.  The summit was in support of the Myanmar Investment Promotion Plan, which aims to attract US$20 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) over the next 20 years.  The summit came as Myanmar has experienced a drop in FDI over the last two years.  The creation of the “Project Bank” was also announced during the summit.  If effectively implemented, Project Bank could allow for greater transparency and quality in the planning, funding and execution of major infrastructure projects.  Read the Council’s Myanmar Update here to learn more.

View the Council's latest Myanmar updates

Philippines

Major Developments

  • In January 2019, the Philippines Board of Investment nearly doubled its approved committed investments from the previous year.  Total investment is recorded at Php 97.9 billion in January in comparison to Php 51.3 billion last year.  Some big contributors to this year’s investment include Rizal Wind Energy Corp, Metroworks ICT Construction Inc, Solid Cement Corp, and Allied Care Expert.
  • Although the Philippines experienced some setbacks in the LNG and energy sectors, recent developments hold promising outcomes for LNG development.  On January 29, Philippines’ Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez met with officials from Pertamina, the second largest Indonesian-based oil company, who vowed to invest US$1 billion to assist in Philippines’ LNG projects.  Along with the massive investment from Indonesia, Tokyo Gas CEO has also expressed hopes to expand to Southeast Asia, particularly targeting Philippines and Vietnam.
  • Philippines’ Landbank reported that lending to agrobusinesses rose by 83 percent in 2018.  These loans include lending to small farmers (totaling US$940.4 million or Php 49.3 billion) and agrarian reform beneficiaries (totaling US$2.8 billion or Php 151.2 billion).  In addition, there is also increased funding for the government’s priority programs such as MSMEs (US$2.58 billion or Php 135.5 billion) and tourism initiatives (US$421.5 million or Php 22.1 billion).  To further improve its financial position, Landbank is also aiming to acquire a controlling stake in the Philippine Dealing System Holdings Corporation.
  • The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) is currently seeking better information sharing systems with the National Privacy Commission (NPC).  Competition Commission Chair Arsenio M. Balisacan informed that the Philippine Competition Act of 2015 strictly enforces rules of confidentiality that prevent PCC from discussing impactful transactions to agencies.  The PCC is working towards the ability for individuals to share information that will not violate laws on privacy and competition to “review of competition cases, or forthcoming transactions.”
  • The Philippines Government is currently considering a review of its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States.  Under the existing treaty, Manila and Washington are bound to aid each other in the event of an attack by a third party.  However, the treaty's role beyond the Philippines’ metropolis, particularly in disputed territories of the South China Sea, remains ambiguous.  The proposed review of the MDT can be seen in two different lights:  Either it is a way to further separate the Philippines from the United States as part of the Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy and pivot towards China, or it could serve to strengthen the agreement by more clearly laying out the triggers and responsibilities of mutual defense, in effect tying Philippine and U.S. defense cooperation closer together.

Advocacy

  • The Council is currently working with the Global Alliance of Pet Food Associations to submit a joint advocacy letter to the Office of Senator Binay to provide comments on Senate Bill No. 2068, the "Pet Food Additive Information Act."  Senator Binay submitted the bill in October 2018.  In its proposed form, the bill requires certain labeling requirements on pet food products that are not aligned with international standards.  For more information, please contact Sunita Kapoor at skapoor@usasean.org.
  • Thank you to all members who submitted input to the draft Healthcare MOU between the Council and the Philippines Department of Health (DOH).  The draft MOU has been transmitted back to the DOH for review.  We will update members on the next steps once the DOH responds.

View the Council's latest Philippines updates

Singapore

Major Developments

  • In January 2019, Singapore’s Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat announced that the February budget will focus on the digital economy, infrastructure and health care for the aging population.  This budget plan contrasts current U.S.-China tensions and weak global growth.  Because Singapore is also export reliant, its exports are looking to expand between 1.5-3.5 percent this year.  Minister Heng indicated that the goal will always be to “keep Singapore strong, secure and stable” irrespective of political shifts.
  • As part of Singapore’s Smart Nation vision, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been identified as one of four frontier technologies essential to growing the country’s economy.  The Information Media Development Authority (IMDA) has been collaborating with AI Singapore to review relevant regulations that would enable AI solutions, build a vibrant core of AI developers, grow industry capabilities and drive its adoption of AI, such as the National Speech Corpus V1.0, introduced in November 2018.  In addition, IMDA recently announced several talent-development focused AI initiatives, such as AI for Everyone, AI for Industry and AI Singapore Apprenticeship Program.  For more information, see our update here.

View the Council's latest Singapore updates

Thailand

Major Developments

  • On February 8, current Prime Minister Prayut accepted Phalang Pracharath Party’s invitation to be the party’s candidate for prime minister for the March 24 election.  The Election Commission (EC) approved his nomination on February 11.  The Phalang Pracharath Party is composed of several former ministers of the current administration, four of whom announced their resignation from the Government on January 29.  For more information on these political developments, see our Thailand Analytical Update here.
  • On February 4, the EC opened registration of constituency and party-list candidates.  In a shocking development on February 8, the Thai Raksa Chart party – an offshoot of the Pheu Thai Party linked to former Prime Ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra – announced former Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for Prime Minister.  However, on February 11 the EC rejected the former Princess’s candidacy nomination, aligning themselves with an earlier statement by King Maha Vajiralongkorn that his sister’s candidacy was “inappropriate” and would “defy the nation’s culture.”  For more information on these political developments, see our Thailand Analytical Update here.
  • On February 8, Thai authorities launched a Huawei Technologies 5G test bed in its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).  The deployment comes amid U.S. and international fears that Huawei – a Chinese firm – may engage in mass surveillance and espionage on its networks.  Thai authorities noted that cooperation with Huawei on the test bed did not mean Thailand did not have security concerns and that the test bed would allow Thailand to confirm or deny U.S. allegations before moving forward with broader deployment.  For more information, see our recent Update here.
  • After three years in development, Thailand’s new Power Development Plan (PDP) 2018-2037 was approved on January 24 by the National Energy Policy Council.  The new PDP, emphasizes increasing power generation by private companies, strengthening grid security, and setting Thailand up to be either a power purchasing hub or a regional grid connection for the neighboring countries of Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia.  The new PDP sees Thailand’s power production capacity increase by roughly 65 percent with the largest portion of this new capacity coming from renewable energy power plants.  More information on Thailand’s PDP can be found here.
  • As of January 23, Thailand’s Draft Personal Data Protection Act and Cybersecurity Bill have been forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for approval.  The NLA will appoint a committee to review the bills, which will then be subject to the NLA’s final approval and signed into law by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn.  The law will come into effect 180 days after publication.  For more information, see our recent update here.

View the Council's latest Thailand updates

Vietnam

Major Developments

During his State of the Union address earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed the second summit between the United States and North Korea will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam on February 27-28.  Just prior to the Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi, President Trump will meet with General Secretary and President of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to discuss bilateral relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.  Vietnam has shown strong support for a second meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, having previously announced its eagerness to host the meeting with hopes to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between the two nations that can lead to greater peace, security and stability.  Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has stated that this venue will provide a platform for Vietnam to demonstrate its ability to assume a leadership role in international affairs; U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo likewise hopes that Vietnam can provide a model for economic and political reform to which North Korea may aspire.

Advocacy

  • This year, the annual Vietnam Business Mission will commence with a workshop on cybersecurity and data privacy on March 12 as an avenue to provide input on the draft cybersecurity decree and a new draft data privacy decree.  This workshop will give members the opportunity to engage with key officials working on the draft cybersecurity decree, which has been delayed to incorporate industry recommendations due to re-examination of several aspects of the decree (data localization, critical information systems).  Participants will include the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Information and Communication, Office of the Government, National Assembly and other key government agencies.  For more information, please contact Vu Tu Thanh at tvu@usasean.org.
  • Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) announced it would amend the Decree on the Management, Provision and Use of Radio and Television Services (Decree 6/2016).  Following MIC’s publication of a draft decree for public review, the Council and industries submitted concerns, noting some of the provisions under Decree 6 would stifle growth and innovation in over-the-top services.  Details on the status of the decree have yet to be released.  For more information, see our recent update here.

Looking Ahead

  • Vietnam Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Workshop, March 12:  The Government of Vietnam is actively seeking comments and technical assistance on both the draft cybersecurity decree and a new draft data privacy decree.  To provide the means for industry to provide this input, the Council is organizing a half-day workshop. For more information, please contact Vu Tu Thanh at tvu@usasean.org.
  • Vietnam Business Mission, March 12-14:  The Council is currently registering members for its annual Business Mission to Vietnam.  The deadline to register is February 26.  For more information or to express interest, please contact Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.
  • Health and Life Sciences (HLS) Industry Mission to Vietnam, March 14-15:  For more information, please contact Lucius Lee at llee@usasean.org or Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Vietnam updates