President's Newsletter - March 2019

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

Dear Members,

With a heavy heart, I share the shocking and sad news that last weekend Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United States H.E. Virachai Plasai passed on March 16, at age 58, after a battle with a myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of bone-marrow cancer.  It is difficult for me to find a way to adequately express the grief that we at the Council feel for this loss. Ambassador Virachai arrived at his post as Thailand’s top diplomat in America last June, but even in that short time, he left a deep and lasting impression on everyone he came in contact with among our members, his ASEAN counterparts and the staff of the Council. His special love and gift for music, what I dubbed his “Rock 'n' Roll diplomacy,” created a lasting impression on us all. We issued a press release on the day of his death to offer our condolences to his family and our dear friends in the Royal Thai Government, and in it, I said, “I am deeply and personally saddened by the loss of a beloved friend and great champion of Thai-U.S. relations. Ambassador Virachai was a great leader in establishing Thailand's role on the international stage, and he served his country with enormous poise and dedication.” You can read the entire press statement here.

This coming weekend, we will watch as Thais head to polls, followed by Indonesians just a few weeks later. Stakes are high as parties vie for votes during Thailand’s March 24 general election, which has been identified as a political turning point and potential agenda reset of economic and social policy priority areas. On April 17, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and former General Prabowo Subianto will face off. We wish both Thailand and Indonesia smooth elections and will keep members updated on developments.

While we await results of these elections, recent news of record U.S. trade deficits caught the attention of the international trade community. Just yesterday, we hosted an event featuring the perspective of a trading partner with which the U.S. consistently enjoys a trade surplus with: Singapore. The Council marked Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing’s visit to Washington D.C. and the 15th anniversary of the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement coming into effect with a luncheon, where Minister Chan’s conversation with our members and U.S. Government representatives included the announcement of an MOU signed between Infrastructure Asia and OPIC yesterday morning, his view of what makes America so great, and, after 26 rounds of talks, optimism in crossing the finish line for Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership by the end of 2019. Please see our press release here for more information.

Vietnam’s recent appearances in the news cycle have generated buzz and business optimism. Following the second Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi, the Council led its largest ever delegation of 51 U.S. businesses to Vietnam. This fruitful mission to start the Year of the Pig may be credited to the Government’s work in creating attractive business environments, diversifying the economy and integrating into the global economy through ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). CPTPP may soon include Thailand, and we continue to advocate for CPTPP ratification in Malaysia and Brunei with the goal of expanding opportunities for all to participate more freely in the global economy.

Our missions, as platforms of advocacy and signature events, allow us to build momentum and move the needle. This month, for example, we built upon progress made during the ASEAN Transportation Ministers’ Meeting last November and led a Post-ASEAN Transportation Ministers’ Meeting Roadshow to the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. The roadshow allowed necessary follow up and continued, in-person engagement with our stakeholders. Please see our press release here for more information.

We welcome the prospect of a new U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN. On March 8, the White House indicated President Donald Trump’s intent to nominate John Linder, former Georgia Congressman to the role. We support this development and are eager for an additional channel to reinforce ongoing dialogue and economic cooperation between the U.S. and ASEAN. We will also soon see Ambassador Matt Matthews deploy to his post in Brunei, having most recently served as U.S. Ambassador to APEC and we are looking forward to working closely with him.

Ambassadors from Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia will also deploy to Washington, D.C. this month, and we are looking forward to welcoming Ambassador Mahendra Siregar from Indonesia, Ambassador Khamphan Anlavan and Ambassador Dato’ Azmil Mohd Zabidi to Washington, D.C. and will soon share details of events to introduce them to our members. In the second week of April, the Council will host a dinner in honor Minister Mai Tien Dung, Chairman of the Office of the Government of Vietnam and will share details shortly.

In America, we are celebrating women’s history month and are excited to announce our official commitment to the UN Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy. This commitment from members of our Health and Life Sciences committee promotes the health of women, children and adolescents in Southeast Asia. It is with great pride we highlight our members progress and support of this important objective.

Finally, I wish our friends in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand a happy Khmer New Year, Pi Mai, Thingyan and Songkran.

Highlights

Looking Ahead

  • Roundtable with Malaysian Minister of Trade and Industry, April 1: The Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold a small off-the-record luncheon roundtable with Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Darell Leiking during his multi-city U.S. visit. For more information, please contact Kim Yaeger at kyaeger@usasean.org.
  • Mission to the ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, April 3-5: For the 20thconsecutive year, the 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.
  • First 2019 ASEAN-U.S. Digital Policy Consultative Forum, April 8: The first DPCF of 2019 will be held alongside the ASEAN TELSOM-ATRC Leaders’ Retreat from April 8-10 (TBC), hosted by the Philippines. It will be the first of a three-part series held in conjunction with each of the TELSOM-ATRC meetings of 2019. See more information here.
  • Food & Agriculture Industry Mission to Vietnam, April 10-11: This sector-focused mission will offer members the opportunity to engage key public and private sector stakeholders who make up Vietnam’s domestic agriculture ecosystem. For more information, please contact Sunita Kapoor at skapoor@usasean.org and Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.
  • Dinner in Honor of Minister Mai Tien Dung, Chairman of the Office of the Government Socialist Republic of Vietnam, April 11: The Council is pleased to host a roundtable and is currently seeking sponsorship for a reception and dinner in honor of H.E. Mai Tien Dung, Minister and Chairman of the Office of the Government of Vietnam during his visit to Washington, D.C., for the 2019 World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings. Sponsors will have the opportunity to engage Minister Dung and those traveling with him during a roundtable discussion prior to the reception and dinner. Please contact Hai Pham (hpham@usasean.org) and Vu Tu Thanh (tvu@usasean.org) for more information or to express interest.

Advocacy

  • In Indonesia, the Council secured an opportunity to submit a paper containing a series of recommendations to the Ministry of Trade as it formulates several e-Commerce-related regulatory provisions. Council members were able to provide recommendations on a range of subjects, including customs and tax treatments, foreign investment, local content and extraterritorial applications.
  • The Council continued its advocacy efforts with the Government of Indonesia to amend its decision to adopt a ministerial compulsory license regulation on non-domestic pharmaceutical products. Last week, the Council joined other industry associations in a meeting with Ministry of Health officials, the Food & Drug Supervisory Body and the Director of Patents in the Ministry of Justice to discuss this issue and recommend alternative pathways.
  • During our Vietnam Business Mission from March 12-14, the Council was able to raise many major business issues to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and other top-level decisionmakers. A highlight was our meeting with Minister of Public Security General To Lam, who spoke at great length with the delegation on cybersecurity. As a result of this engagement, the Council secured an opportunity to organize a workshop on cybersecurity and data privacy with members of the Ministry of Public Security, National Assembly, and other relevant Ministries, at a later date following the release of the draft decree guiding implementation of the Law on Cybersecurity. The mission resulted in key opportunities for closer cooperation, and the Council will work with members to follow up on the discussed advocacy issues.

Membership

The Council is pleased to welcome four new members as of March 1, all joining at the Corporate Level:  Edwards Life Sciences, MAXIMUS, Varian and SAS.  As of March 1, Udemy has also upgraded to Chairman’s Council.  These additions bring our total member count to 163, a record high for US-ABC, with 74 Corporate members and 89 Chairman’s Council members.  We look forward to continued growth in the months ahead.

Regional Highlights

APEC

Major Developments

A preview of Malaysia’s potential priorities as APEC host in 2020 was presented at the March 1 NCAPEC Executive Roundtable in Atlanta, Georgia, which also featured many of our members’ work and innovations around the theme of Toward a Digital Society. Speaking from the perspectives of public and private sectors, Aida Safinaz Allias (Head at APEC 2020 National Secretariat, Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry) and Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood (Chairman and Founder of RM Capital Partners) said Malaysia’s priority areas would build on Chile’s progress as 2019 host, and major topics for 2020 would include the digital economy, regional and national inequalities and the 2020 Bogor Goals. Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood said revisiting Bogor Goals would be an opportunity to reset and build consensus among APEC nations amid U.S.-China trade tensions.

Looking Ahead

  • U.S. APEC Business Coalition - APEC SOM I & ABAC I, March 26: Please join senior U.S. government officials and members of the U.S. business community for a briefing on outcomes of the first APEC Senior Officials Meeting of 2019, held in Santiago, Chile, and the first APEC Business Advisory Council meeting, held in Atlanta, Georgia. To register, please click here. Teleconference information will be provided to registered attendees prior to the meeting upon request.
  • APEC Essentials Workshop, March 27: Please join The United States Council for International Business (USCIB), National Center for APEC (NCAPEC), and C&M International for a workshop to learn the essentials of APEC including its history, objectives, and opportunities. Learn from practical case studies led by industry discussants on how sectors approach priority issues and leverage the APEC platform. To register, please click here.

View the Council's latest APEC updates

CPTPP

Major Developments

  • Now that the CPTPP has gone into force, it remains to be seen how quickly businesses in the countries which have ratified the agreement will choose to utilize its provisions. One of the challenges businesses may face is how best to self-certify compliance with the Rules of Origin requirements to qualify in the minds of a CPTPP member’s customs agency that its export product is eligible for duty-free importation.
  • The Government of Peru has announced that it will complete its domestic CPTPP ratification process in March, which would make it the eighth nation to bring the agreement into force.
  • The Government of Thailand announced that it plans to formally apply to join the CPTPP in March.
  • During the Council’s mission to Vietnam this month, the implementation of the CPTPP relations provisions was one of the discussion agenda items in several meetings with various Vietnamese Government officials.

Advocacy

The Council continues to advocate to the Governments of Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam the benefits of concluding their national CPTPP ratification processes.  While in Malaysia this month, Council Senior Vice President-Policy Marc Mealy held talks with Prime Minister Mahathir’s Economic Advisor and officials from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Art, Culture and Tourism.  

View the Council's latest CPTPP updates

Industry Highlights

Customs

Major Developments

  • Director General of the Royal Malaysian Customs Department Datuk Seri Subromaniam Tholasy retired on March 9. The current Deputy Director General of Customs, Datuk Paddy Abd Halim, will be acting until the Public Service Department identifies a successor to Subromaniam.
  • Thailand’s Customs Department aims to cut hours from cargo clearance processes for air and sea freight with the launch of its Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP) e-bill payment and e-customs clearance systems. The Customs Department is focused on measures to reduce clearance costs and time to boost ease doing business.
  • Singapore will launch a pilot project known as TradeTrust later this year, which will reduce container ship delays by transitioning to electronic bills (e-bills) of lading. Singapore will adjust the Electronic Transactions Act to recognize e-bills of lading and keep pace with international standards.

Advocacy

On February 25, the Council, in partnership with the ASEAN Customs Enforcement & Compliance Working Group (CECWG) organized a workshop on “Forging an Effective Partnership to Tackle Illicit Trade and Counterfeits.” The workshop saw strong participation from 14 private sector companies and nine ASEAN Customs Administrations. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, International Trademark Association and Pharmaceutical Security Institute also attended to share their expertise. The workshop was generously sponsored by Procter & Gamble and Smiths Detection. Please look out for the report of the workshop and follow-up actions shortly. For more information, please contact Lucius Lee at llee@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Customs updates

Defense & Security

Major Developments

On March 8, the 16th ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces’ Meeting (ACDFM) took place in Thailand, focused on military roles in supporting border area management, cooperation to cope with regional threats such as the development of an intelligence exchange platform and the promotion of military medical centers in the ASEAN as part of the ministerial organization in the region, the promotion of military roles in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and the enhancement of ASEAN’s capabilities at the global stage on peace operations.

View the Council's latest Defense & Security updates

Energy

Major Developments

  • According to a January 23 statement issued by Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, President Joko Widodo indicated that the Indonesian Government was planning to revise the country's oil and gas law (Law No. 22 of 2001) in an attempt to revive the ailing sector and increase Indonesia's energy independence. Proposed changes to the 2001 oil and gas law include the creation of a new oil and gas business entity called BUKMigas. The new agency will play a regulatory role in both the upstream and downstream industries, taking over for upstream regulatory SKKMigas and downstream regulator BPHMigas.
  • Aiming to curb CO2 emissions from vehicles, Thailand's Ministry of Energy plans to implement by 2023 a nationwide upgrade to the Euro 5 environmental standards for diesel. The Ministry of Energy originally intended to implement Euro 5 in 2025, but recently moved up the deadline to 2023. The new deadline decision does not apply to benzene.

Advocacy

Call for Input: Case Studies on the Effects of Industry 4.0, Digitalization, Big Data and Analytics on the Energy Sector. The Council is partnering with the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) and the ASEAN-USAID Inclusive Growth in ASEAN through Innovation, Trade and E-Commerce (IGNITE) on a high-level report on how Industry 4.0 and innovative technologies such as bid data, analytics and digitalization are transforming ASEAN's energy sector. The Council's contribution to the report will be to highlight the best practices and recommendations of our member companies that develop, utilize or have had to adapt to these innovative technologies and their use in the energy sector. If your company is interested in contributing a case study to the report, please email Riley Smith at rsmith@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Energy updates

Financial Services

Major Developments

Vietnam is moving ahead with plans to restructure the securities market until 2025 as a method of creating a medium- and long-term capital raising instrument. With plan number 242/QD-TTg, the Government intends to lead Vietnam toward a more interactive role in regional and global markets. The document sets out eight solutions to reformulate the domestic securities market, including the perfection of the legal framework, restructuring of goods and services supply, restructuring of securities companies, market and investors, improvement of market management, and upgrading the market status based on global standards. Presently, restructuring of securities companies may be among the biggest concern for the market.

Looking Ahead

  • Mission to the ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, April 3-5: For the 20thconsecutive year, the 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

Major Developments

  • The Government of Indonesia is preparing to make halal labeling for consumer products and services compulsory, pursuant to the Halal Law passed in 2014. Under provisions of the regulation, the Halal Product Guarantee Agency (BPJPH) will assume greater responsibilities in the halal certification process. According to BPJPH Director General Sukoso, mandatory halal certification will cover goods and services related to food and beverages in addition to all consumer goods. Once President Joko Widodo approves the draft regulation, implementation is expected to transpire over three to five years. The certification overhaul is expected to generate an additional Rp22.5 trillion (about US$1.6 billion) to Indonesia’s burgeoning Shariah economy, which has been projected to reach US$427 billion by 2022. Halal food products are expected to contribute to around half of this projected figure.

Looking Ahead

  • ASEAN Safe, Nutritious Food PPP Initiative in Thailand and Vietnam, March 25 and April 10: For more information, please contact Sunita Kapoor at skapoor@usasean.org.
  • 2019 Food & Agriculture Industry Mission to Vietnam, April 10-11: This sector-focused mission will offer members the opportunity to engage key public and private sector stakeholders who make up Vietnam’s domestic agriculture ecosystem. For more information, please contact Sunita Kapoor at skapoor@usasean.org and Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Food & Agriculture updates

Health & Life Sciences

Major Developments

  • On February 20, President Rodrigo R. Duterte of the Philippines officially signed the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act into law, which guarantees equitable access to quality and affordable healthcare services for all Filipinos. It will also automatically enroll citizens into the National Health Insurance Program and expand PhilHealth coverage to include free medical consultations and laboratory tests.
  • The UN Secretary General’s Office has approved the Council’s commitment to the UN’s Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) movement, signifying our pledge to work together with ASEAN governments, the U.S. private sector and civil society to promote child, adolescent and maternal health. We are putting together a Work Plan for members’ input, and we look forward to working with members over the coming years to showcase our commitment to the EWEC movement and advancing the EWEC global strategy. If you have any questions, please contact Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org and Lucius Lee at llee@usasean.org.

Advocacy

On March 14-15, the Council organized its annual Health & Life Sciences Industry Mission to Vietnam. The two-day health-focused mission immediately followed the Vietnam Business Mission and engaged officials at the Ministry of Health (MOH) and other government agencies to discuss how businesses can continue to support the government’s efforts to strengthen healthcare in Vietnam. During the mission, the delegation met with Vice Ministers of Health Nguyen Truong Son and Truong Quoc Cuong, the National Assembly Committee on Social Issues, Vietnam Social Security, and Vinmec International Hospital.
The mission also included the 4th Joint Working Group Meeting with MOH as part of the Council’s Memorandum of Understanding with MOH. For more information, please contact Lucius Lee at llee@usasean.org and Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.

View the Council's latest Health & Life Sciences updates

ICT

Major Developments

  • Major Developments

  • On March 13, the ASEAN Agreement on e-Commerce was made public, after seven rounds of negotiation starting in June 2017. The Agreement contains some positive provisions, but conducted very little industry consultation in its development, and will need to have greater transparency and partnership with multiple stakeholders in its implementation. For more information, see our Analytical Update here.
  • On March 4, Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information announced its plans to start rolling out 5G mobile network technology by 2020. The Info-communications Media Development Authority will launch a public consultation on regulatory framework and policy issues. For more information, see our Analytical Update here.
  • On March 4, Malaysia’s Ministry of Communications and Multimedia announced that Putrajaya and Cyberjaya will be test beds in showcasing 5G technology application in April. The Minister of Communications and Multimedia acknowledged data security concerns associated with 5G and reinforced that the Ministry is conducting further study. For more information, see our Analytical Update here.
  • On February 28, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly passed the Cybersecurity Bill and the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), and the bills are expected to be implemented in the final quarter of 2019. These bills, along with six other digital bills, which have not yet been confirmed to have passed, are designed to lay a foundation for Thailand 4.0 and to guide Thailand’s transition into digital economy and digital governance. For more information, see our Update here.
  • On February 21, the government of the Philippines launched a new ICT roadmap called the National ICT Ecosystem Framework (NICTEF), which replaces the Philippine Digital Strategy Initiative, operational from 2011-2016. NICTEF is designed to lay out the principles governing data collection and management and supports multi-stakeholder cooperation in contributing toward the development of a sustainable, secure and equitable ICT environment. For more information, see our Update here.
  • Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Informatics (KOMINFO) has issued Regulation No. 16 of 2018 on Operation Provisions for the Certification of Telecommunication Equipment and/or Devices (Regulation 16/2018) Regulation 16/2017 enforces certification of telecommunications equipment and devices, as well as product labelling requirements. For more information, see our Update here.

Looking Ahead

First 2019 ASEAN-U.S. Digital Policy Consultative Forum, April 8: The first DPCF of 2019 will be held alongside the ASEAN TELSOM-ATRC Leaders’ Retreat from April 8-10 (TBC), hosted by the Philippines. It will be the first of a three-part series held in conjunction with each of the TELSOM-ATRC meetings of 2019. See more information here. Monthly ICT Committee In-Person Meeting, April 12 SGT (April 11 ET): The Council invites our members to a monthly in-person ICT Committee Meeting, in the Singapore office of our ICT Committee Chair, Cisco. See more information here. First ATRC Multi-Stakeholder (OTT) Dialogue Session, May 16: The 2019 ATRC Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue will take place in Singapore. The Dialogue aims to provide a platform for ASEAN telecommunication regulators, OTT service providers and network service providers to exchange views on the topic of OTT service management and regulation. Please contact Shay Wester at swester@usasean.org and Ella Duangkaew at eduangkaew@usasean.org for more information.

View the Council's latest ICT updates

Infrastructure

Major Developments

Major Developments

On March 7, Singapore Acting Minister for Transport Vivian Balakrishnan announced that the Government has accepted the recommendations of the Land Transport Master Plan 2040 advisory panel for a more inclusive, well-connected and fast transport system. The Land Transport Master Plan 2040 aims to tackle three key areas: 1) keeping all commutes to neighborhood centers to under 20 minutes and peak-period commutes to under 45 minutes, 2) inclusive transportation for all, and 3) safer and healthier commuter options. To learn more, read the Council’s infrastructure update here.

Advocacy

From March 18-22, the Council leads its inaugural 2019 Post-ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting Roadshow to the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. This roadshow, led by Council Senior Vice President & Regional Managing Director Amb. Michael Michalak, includes senior representatives from 3M, Autodesk, Bechtel, Caterpillar, FedEx and Honeywell. These companies will speak on their best practices and experience in addressing current challenges across the full transport infrastructure value chain. We are also expecting around 100-120 government officials from the various departments, ministries, agencies, and state-owned enterprises to be in attendance to learn more about these solutions which could help enhance their ability to meet key infrastructure goals.

View the Council's latest Infrastructure updates

Manufacturing

Major Developments

  • Last month, the Manufacturing Committee held its first quarterly call to review elements of the proposed 2019 work plan and obtain inputs from members on Information priorities (trade policy, tax policy and industry 4.0 initiatives); priority markets (Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam); program ideas (organizing a Manufacturing Committee mission to Thailand), and expressions of interest to serve as committee leaders.
  • One of the committee’s 2019 advocacy areas of focus will include supporting an ongoing industry-backed project called the ASEAN Regulatory Cooperation Project, an initiative involving individual ASEAN chemical regulators working together to formulate a proposal for a regional chemical management regulatory framework, which could support regional industrial development as part of the ASEAN Economic Community.
  • Please contact Marc Mealy at mmealy@usasean.org for more information about the Manufacturing Committee.

View the Council's latest Manufacturing updates

Travel & Tourism

Major Developments

  • The first ASEAN Gastronomy Forum will be held in Thailand from March 21-22, the ideal platform for regional leaders to discuss gastro-diplomacy and how the region can leverage its diverse cuisine for tourism promotion. ASEAN countries heavily promote national cuisines despite issuing the ASEAN Joint Declaration on Gastronomy Tourism in January 2018.
  • The number of international visitors to the ASEAN region is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.72 percent from 129.2 million in 2018 to 155.4 million in 2022. Backpacking, medical and wellness travel, and food tourism will be some important trends for the countries to embrace. The growth of low-cost carriers, more liberalized skies and cultural hot spots will further drive intra-ASEAN travel and international tourism. While the influx of travelers can be hugely beneficial to the countries in this region, over-tourism and the need to avoid degradation to the most popular tourist areas raise concerns among governments and stakeholders.

View the Council's latest Travel & Tourism updates

Country Highlights

Brunei

Major Developments

  • On March 13, Brunei’s Ministry of Finance and Economy tabled US$21 million of its total US$814 million FY 2019/2020 budget toward the launch a stock exchange, which is part of a total US$414 million allocation for this end, to be distributed over the next few years. The stock exchange launch timeline has not yet been disclosed.
  • At Brunei’s 15th Legislative Council, the Government proposed a budget of B$5.6 billion (about US$4 billion), stressing the urgent need for more investment into Brunei. Minister of Finance and Economy II, YB Dato’ Dr. Hj Mohd Amin Liew underscored that Brunei’s GDP posted just 0.1 percent growth in 2018 due to a contraction in the oil and gas sector while the non-oil and gas sectors saw positive growth of 0.5 percent, supported by the agriculture industry, livestock, wholesale and retail sector. Dato’ Amin also highlighted that Brunei needs to intensify its diversification efforts in the sectors of downstream oil and gas, food manufacturing, tourism, services and ICT. [MC1]
  • Brunei recently established its Digital Economic Consult under the purview of the Ministry of Transport and Info-communications to lead and drive Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) issues in the Sultanate. Minister of Transport and Info-communications Abdul Mutalib stated that it is important for Brunei to provide necessary telecommunications infrastructure and a stable telecommunications service to keep up with the fourth industry revolution. In February, Brunei announced that it will consolidate network infrastructure of all existing telecommunication operators in the country under a newly formed company to spur the development of the ICT sector in the country.
  • On March 5, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah met at the Annual Malaysia-Brunei Leaders’ Consultation framework in Kuala Lumpur. As a result of this meeting, Malaysia will put forth a Memorandum of Understanding related to fisheries cooperation and transportation. When the Council met with Dato’ Amin Liew bin Abdullah (Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Minister of Finance and Economy II, and Chairman of Brunei Economic Development Board) in January, he stressed that fisheries and aquaculture are sectors that Brunei is interested to develop further. Brunei aims to export these products in addition to creating job opportunities for local Bruneians. To support this initiative, government-linked companies are actively assisting SMEs so that they are exposed to a broader spectrum in the sector.

View the Council's latest Brunei updates

Cambodia

Major Developments

In February, both the European Union and the U.S. Congress moved closer to stripping Cambodia of preferential trade privileges in response to alleged human rights violations and an erosion of democracy surrounding the country’s general election in late July 2018. However, despite this growing pressure from the West, the Cambodian Government still largely sees the U.S. and EU demands as foreign interference in Cambodia’s domestic affairs. Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly said that he will not "exchange national sovereignty with aid" and doesn't show signs of political compromise, particularly in reinstating the country's former main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and its leaders. The prevailing political and economic trend within Cambodia also indicates a steadily growing Chinese influence that signals the capacity and desire of Beijing to bankroll the Cambodian economy and ensure that the current government remains in place. To learn more, read the Council’s Cambodia Update here.

View the Council's latest Cambodia updates

Indonesia

Major Developments

With less than a month remaining before Indonesia’s simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo holds a lead over his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, according to a recent poll. Jokowi appears to be enjoying an advantage with several recent surveys showing him likely to win and the number of undecided voters dwindling to about 13 percent from the previous 25 percent a few months ago. Indonesian election law provides for a six-month campaign period which began slowly for the two candidates, although it has picked up pace in recent weeks particularly through nationally televised debates. The month of March sees two debates on March 17 on education, health and manpower issues and on March 30 on governance, defense and international relations.

Advocacy

  • At the request of the Ministry of Trade, the Council has prepared a set of policy recommendations to assist in developing Indonesia's e-commerce regulations while maintaining an even playing field for all stakeholders. Please contact Mario Masaya at mmasaya@usasean.org and Angga Antagia at aantagia@usasean.org for more information.
  • Indonesia is developing its personal data protection bill, and the Council has circulated a call for input to gather member feedback. Please contact Artha Sirait at asirait@usasean.org, Angga Antagia at aantagia@usasean.org and Steven Gunawan at sgunawan@usasean.org for more information.

View the Council's latest Indonesia updates

Laos

Major Developments

From February 24-25, President and General Secretary of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong visited his Laos counterpart, Bounnhang Vorachith, in Vientiane to sign nine agreements aiming to expand the bilateral economic relationship and promote cooperation across a number of sectors. The Presidents discussed funding for the planned Vientiane-Vung Ang railway, which is intended to promote economic development in Laos and link the land-locked country to the broader region. The visit is an indication that Vietnam is eager to assume greater leadership in the region as it presents its economic development model as one that other Communist countries can emulate. For more information, see our recent Update here.

Looking Ahead

  • Roundtable with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao PDR, March 29: The Deputy Minister will discuss his perspectives on the current state of U.S.-Lao bilateral relations, outcomes of the comprehensive dialogue and the recent U.S.-Laos Trade and Investment Framework talks in Vientiane and how the U.S. private sector can help Laos achieve its economic priorities. The Deputy Minister will be joined by the new Ambassador of Laos to the United States Khamphanh Anlavan, and the Director Generals of the ASEAN and Europe/America Departments of the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please see here for more information.

View the Council's latest Laos updates

Malaysia

  • A preview of Malaysia’s potential priorities as APEC host in 2020 was given at the March 1 NCAPEC Executive Roundtable in Atlanta, Georgia. Speaking from the perspectives of public and private sectors, Aida Safinaz Allias (Head at APEC 2020 National Secretariat, Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry) and Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood (Chairman and Founder of RM Capital Partners) said Malaysia’s priority areas would build on Chile’s progress as 2019 host, and major topics would include the digital economy, regional and national inequalities and the Bogor Goals, given the Goals’ 2020 deadline. Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood said revisiting Bogor Goals would be an opportunity to reset and build consensus among APEC nations amid U.S.-China trade tensions.
  • On March 4, Malaysia’s Ministry of Communications and Multimedia announced that Putrajaya and Cyberjaya will be test beds in showcasing 5G technology application in April. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission is currently conducting a study on data security concerns associated with 5G. For more information, see our Analytical Update here.
  • On March 5, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah met at the Annual Malaysia-Brunei Leaders’ Consultation framework in Kuala Lumpur. As a result of this meeting, Malaysia will put forth a Memorandum of Understanding related to fisheries cooperation and transportation.
  • Director General of the Royal Malaysian Customs Department Datuk Seri Subromaniam Tholasy retired on 9 March. The current Deputy Director General of Customs, Datuk Paddy Abd Halim, will be acting until the Public Service Department identifies a successor to Subromaniam.

Advocacy

The Council continues to advocate to the Governments of Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam the benefits of concluding their national CPTPP ratification processes. While in Malaysia this month, Council’s Senior Vice President-Policy Marc Mealy held talks with Prime Minister Mahathir’s Economic Advisor and officials from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Art, Culture and Tourism.

Looking Ahead

On April 1, the Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold a small off-the-record luncheon roundtable with Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Darell Leiking during his multi-city U.S. visit.

View the Council's latest Malaysia updates

Myanmar

Major Developments

On February 6, Myanmar’s Union Parliament (Pyihtaungsu Hluttaw) voted 389-192 to appoint a parliamentary committee to review amendments to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution. Upper House (Amyotha Hluttaw) Member of Parliament U Aung Kyi Nyunt, from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) Party, submitted the proposal to seek to change the constitution and said the efforts would focus on the removal of provisions that are “contrary to democratic standards, inconsistent or contradictory, obstructed or hindered the building of a genuine democratic Union essential to achieving national peace, deterrents to implementing multi-party democracy, created imbalances between the three pillars of government, failed to protect the equality of citizens, and discouraged free and fair elections.” In other words, U Aung Kyi indicated that the NLD is seeking to substantially change the constitution so that the role of the Myanmar Military (Tatmadaw) in national politics is diminished or removed. To learn more, read the Council’s Myanmar Update here.

View the Council's latest Myanmar updates

Philippines

Major Developments

  • The Philippines is projected to remain fiscally stable in 2018. According to data from the Bureau of the Treasury, the fiscal deficit was From here, Moody’s indicated that the nation’s debt affordability is expected to improve market stabilization and the strengthening of interest rates.
  • The Philippines and Japan recently conducted talks regarding a US$30 million grant to establish a railway institute and further peace-building efforts in Mindanao. According to the Philippines’ Department of Finance, this grant will be allocated to assist the provision of train simulators in the Philippine Railway Institute. Agreements were signed during the Japan-Philippines Joint Committee on Infrastructure Development and Economic Cooperation, where Japan also contributed an additional US$202 million loan for road network development.
  • Advocacy

  • The appointment of former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno as new central bank governor on March 6 raised concerns that the decision might have been politically motivated on President Duterte’s part. Observers fear the independence of the nation’s central bank would be undermined. Despite these concerns, Diokno has reassured the public in stating that he is not a politician and would utilize his background in economics for this position.

View the Council's latest Philippines updates

Singapore

Major Developments

  • Fintech investment in Singapore hit US$365 million in 2018, which is more than double the amount from the previous year. This effectively places Singapore among the top five Fintech markets in Asia Pacific last year. Some of the largest deals in Singapore took place last year, which include companies such as Deskera, Insurtech Singapore Life and cryptocurrency and blockchain startup Terra.
  • Singapore continues to rank high in the Rule of Law index compiled and published by the World of Justice Project (an American advocacy group). These rankings are derived from factors that measure how well a nation can ensure security of people and property. In addition, Singapore places first among the East Asia and Pacific Region in terms of absence of corruption, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice.

View the Council's latest Singapore updates

Thailand

Major Developments

  • On March 7, Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the Thai Raksa Chart Party and banned its executives for 10 years for violating political norms barring Thai royalty from politics in its nomination of Princesss Ubolratana for the party’s premiership candidate. For more information on Thailand’s March 24 Elections, see our Analytical Update here.
  • On March 4, Thailand Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith announced a delay in the signing of one of 14 contracts covering the Sino-Thai high-speed railway. The delay was due to a disagreement over the price and warranty period of the project. For more information, see our recent Update here.
  • On February 28, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly passed the Cybersecurity Bill and the Personal Data Protection Act, and the bills are expected to be implemented in the final quarter of 2019. These bills are designed to guide Thailand’s digital transformation. For more information, see our recent Thailand Update here.
  • On February 18, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared that he is not opposed to the Hazardous Substance Committee’s decision of February 14 to delay a ban on the agrochemical paraquat. The Prime Minister explained that it must not interfere with the committee’s decision but will work to reduce and phase out three agrochemicals. For more information, see our Update here
  • On February 8, Thai authorities launched a Huawei Technologies 5G test bed in Chonburi, one of three provinces in the Eastern Economic Corridor. Thailand Minister of Digital Economy and Society Dr. Pichet Durongkaveroj indicated that the affordability of Huawei’s 5G services offset any potential cybersecurity concerns. Huawei’s entry in Thailand will constitute its 5G debut in Southeast Asia, as it hopes to gain a foothold in Thailand before national deployment of 5G in 2020. For more information, see our Update here.
  • 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 106.79 billion THB (about US$3.39 billion). The SEC will complement the Eastern Economic Corridor, develop Thailand’s coastal areas and facilitate greater trade and investment links between Thailand and its neighbors. For more information, see our Update here.
  • Looking Ahead

  • ASEAN Safe, Nutritious Food PPP Initiative in Thailand and Vietnam, March 25: Please contact Sunita Kapoor at skapoor@usasean.org for more information.
  • Thailand Committee Call featuring Chargé d’affaires Peter Haymond, March 26/27: Chargé d’affaires Haymond will provide an update on recent political and economic developments in Thailand and the future trajectory of bilateral relations, as Thailand serves as the 2019 ASEAN Chair and prepares for a new government following elections on March 24. See here for more information.
  • Mission to the ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, April 3-5: For the 20thconsecutive year, the 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 Thailand updates

Vietnam

Major Developments

  • On March 12-14, the Council brought a delegation of more than 50 leading American companies to Hanoi to engage with the highest level of the Vietnamese government on trade and investment opportunities. Coming on the heels of the second U.S.-DPRK Summit in Hanoi, this business delegation is the Council’s largest delegation to any ASEAN nation in its 35-year history, which reaffirms U.S. President Donald Trump's praise of Vietnam as "thriving like few places on Earth." On March 14, the Council concluded its Vietnam Business Mission with a meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to explore business opportunities and discuss a wide range of issues in key sectors, such as the digital economy, agriculture, health, energy and manufacturing.
  • Vietnam is moving ahead with a plan to restructure the securities market until 2025 as a method of creating a medium- and long-term capital-raising instrument for the Vietnamese economy and businesses. Plan No. 242/QD-TTg sets out eight solutions to reformulate the domestic securities market, including the perfection of the legal framework, restructuring of goods and services supply, restructuring of securities companies, market and investors, improvement of market management and upgrading the market status based on global standards.

Advocacy

  • On March 14-15, the Council organized its annual Health & Life Sciences Industry Mission to Vietnam. The two-day health-focused mission immediately followed the Vietnam Business Mission and engaged officials at the Ministry of Health (MOH) and other government agencies to discuss how businesses can continue to support the government’s efforts to strengthen healthcare in Vietnam. During the mission, the delegation met with Vice Ministers of Health Nguyen Truong Son and Truong Quoc Cuong, the National Assembly Committee on Social Issues, Vietnam Social Security, and Vinmec International Hospital. The mission also included the 4th Joint Working Group Meeting with MOH as part of the Council’s Memorandum of Understanding with MOH. For more information, please contact Lucius Lee at llee@usasean.org and Hai Pham at hpham@usasean.org.
  • During our Vietnam Business Mission from March 12-14, the Council was able to raise many major business issues to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and other top-level decisionmakers. A highlight was our meeting with Minister of Public Security General To Lam, who spoke at great length with the delegation on cybersecurity. As a result of this engagement, the Council secured an opportunity to organize a workshop on cybersecurity and data privacy with members of the Ministry of Public Security, National Assembly, and other relevant Ministries, at a later date following the release of the draft decree guiding implementation of the Law on Cybersecurity. The mission resulted in key opportunities for closer cooperation, and the Council will work with members to follow up on the discussed advocacy issues.

Looking Ahead

  • Dinner in Honor of Minister Mai Tien Dung, Chairman of the Office of the Government Socialist Republic of Vietnam, April 11: The Council is pleased to host a roundtable and is currently seeking sponsorship for a reception and dinner in honor of H.E. Mai Tien Dung, Minister and Chairman of the Office of the Government of Vietnam during his visit to Washington, D.C., for the 2019 World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings. Sponsors will have the opportunity to engage Minister Dung and those traveling with him during a roundtable discussion prior to the reception and dinner. Please contact Hai Pham (hpham@usasean.org) and Vu Tu Thanh (tvu@usasean.org) for more information or to express interest.

View the Council's latest Vietnam updates