President's Newsletter - March 2021

Amb. Ted Osius
Amb. Ted Osius
President & CEO
US-ASEAN Business Council
March 2021 

Dear Members,
We are deeply saddened by the hateful violence that occurred in the Atlanta area this past week.  The Council released the following statement on March 18:
"The recent surge in violence and harassment towards Asians and Asian-Americans in the United States is unacceptable.  Xenophobia has no place in our democracy, and as an organization committed to fostering understanding, goodwill and meaningful relations between the United States and Southeast Asia, we are profoundly troubled by these abhorrent acts.  The US-ASEAN Business Council strongly condemns hatred towards Asians and Asian-Americans in all forms.  We will always stand in solidarity with our Asian friends and colleagues and remain committed to championing diversity and inclusion."
Tensions in Myanmar have significantly escalated this past month.  On February 28, Myanmar’s security forces launched their harshest nationwide crackdown against the pro-democracy demonstrations since the beginning of the coup.  Police, in collaboration with the military’s light infantry divisions, used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas against protestors, bystanders and journalists alike.  Violence intensified even further since March 14, particularly in Yangon where the State Administrative Council (SAC) declared martial law and soldiers and police were deployed on bridges and roads.  Resistance from protestors continues to grow as parts of Yangon have effectively turned into a “war zone,” where burning barricades are commonplace and smoke bombs and live ammunition are regularly fired into crowds and passersby.  As of March 22, 256 deaths were reported.
Myanmar is now facing a crisis of legitimacy.  Myanmar’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun exacerbated the situation with a groundbreaking speech, during which he disassociated himself from the military junta and called for the international community to take the “strongest” actions to overturn the coup, stop the oppression of innocent civilians, and return state power to the legitimately elected government.  At the same time, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), which is the civilian-led and elected parallel government of Myanmar, has seen its local popular support grow substantially, established some degree of control at the grassroots level, and enjoyed moderate wins in its continued battle for international recognition.
In response to the escalation of violence against the protestors, the Biden Administration announced additional rounds of sanctions.  The most recent round imposed on March 22 targets two Chiefs of Police and two military units linked to the violent repression, and another on March 10 targets the two adult children of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon, along with the six businesses they currently control.  To access the official statements by the U.S. Department of Treasury, please click here and here.  The new sanctions build on March 4’s actions by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)’s additions of Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) to the trade blacklist.  BIS implemented new restrictions on the trade of sensitive items under the United States’ Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and subjected Myanmar to “military end use” and “military end user” restrictions, which requires American suppliers to apply for hard-to-obtain licenses to ship certain items to the country.

The Council is pleased to see that the U.S. Congress is taking a renewed interest in Southeast Asia.  The House of Representatives this past week passed a resolution condemning the  military coup as well as H.R. 1112 the Protect Democracy in Burma Act of 2021, which requires the State Department to submit a report to Congress on the coup and spells out U.S. policy to condemn the coup and engage with ASEAN to urge a return to democracy.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has received the bill and is holding a hearing on the “U.S. Response to the Coup in Burma” on March 25.  The House also recently reconstituted the ASEAN Caucus chaired by Representatives Ann Wagner (R-MO-02) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20).  On March 25, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark up H.R. 1083 The Southeast Asia Strategy Act.  Introduced by the ASEAN Caucus chairs, H.R. 1083 orders the Secretary of State to develop and submit “a comprehensive strategy for engagement with Southeast Asia and ASEAN… including to promote broad based and inclusive economic growth, trade, [and] investment,” to Congress within 180 days of the bill’s passing.  Although this piece of legislation has a long road ahead before it could reach President Biden’s desk, the Council applauds the 117th Congress for its strong start in engaging Southeast Asia.
As ASEAN recognizes the need to coordinate its pandemic recovery efforts, governments continue to engage our COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force.  During our Monthly Task Force meeting on March 11, we provided updates on the progress of our four Council-driven initiatives: namely, our (i) Vaccine Preparedness Exercise, (ii) Vaccine Confidence Exercise, (iii) SME Program and (iv) Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Initiative.  On Vaccine Preparedness, we are speaking to multiple institutional partners and experts on vaccine delivery challenges and planning to stress test processes through a tabletop exercise.  Our Vaccine Confidence Exercise, on the other hand, aims to roll out a series of public service campaigns to make verified information easily accessible to the public.  The Task Force is socializing this initiative with the ASEAN Ambassadors and will utilize member expertise in relevant areas.  We also welcome members to participate more fully in our ongoing SME Program.  This year, we will scale the program to reach a wider audience and introduce new platforms to substantially grow mSMEs during this difficult time.  To revitalize ASEAN’s Travel, Tourism & Hospitality sector, we are making headway in encouraging countries to open quicker through standards, disseminating information to travelers and working towards a Visit ASEAN campaign over the course of the next few years.  We are looking forward to our next Executive Dialogue Session on the Restoring Confidence in the Consumer Economy. 
The Council is also in the process of reinvigorating the ASEAN Committee by reevaluating its vision, goals and strategic framework to maximize its potential.  The Committee was envisioned to be the primary channel of engagement between our member companies, the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) and other ASEAN bodies relevant to our membership and the issues for which we advocate.  The Committee works actively to realize an ASEAN single market and endeavors to play an important advisory role to support the region in implementing the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Vision 2025 and its blueprint.  The Committee also demonstrates the contribution of U.S. companies and provides thought leadership to advance ASEAN regional integration.  To this end, the Council on March 12 held a High-Level Dialogue on the AEC, featuring incumbent ASEAN Deputy Secretary General for AEC Dr. Aladdin D. Rillo and his predecessor from 2009-2011 Mr. Pushpanathan Sundram, who is also the Chair of the Council’s Food and Agriculture Committee.  The Council also held a Focus Group Discussion to discuss the results from this briefing and from the ASEAN Industry Committee Priority Survey sent to industry committee leadership.

Our Innovation Subcommittee held its third and final country level session of the inaugural ASEAN Innovation Series in Indonesia on February 25, in collaboration with the Ministry of Research and Technology (Ristek-Brin) and the Ministry of Cooperatives and SMEs.  The session, titled “Connecting Indonesia: Discover What’s Possible,” was supported by Council members Qualcomm and UPS.  At the session, Qualcomm led the discussion on harnessing 5G technology for innovation and economic growth while UPS presented opportunities for SMEs in cross-border e-commerce and the digital economy.  The event gathered nearly 200 participants, including government officials, experts, business leaders, SMEs and academics from all over the country.  The ASEAN Innovation Series will continue into 2021 with upcoming sessions focusing on ASEAN-wide innovation.  This event marked the successful kick-off of the Subcommittee led by Co-Chairs 3M, Pfizer and Qualcomm.

The Council will host an Exclusive Virtual Farewell Event in honor of the Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the United States, H.E. Muhammad Lutfi on March 25.  During the event, Minister Lutfi will brief our members on his goals and priorities as the recently appointed Trade Minister of Indonesia.  The event is supported by Conoco Phillips and Freeport-McMoran (gold sponsors) as well as Qualcomm, ExxonMobil, and Stripe (silver sponsors).  After serving as the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States since September 2020, Minister Lutfi plans to return to Jakarta at the end of this month.  During his brief posting in the United States, Minister Lutfi has shown a great commitment to expanding U.S.-Indonesia relations and has continued to engage the Council on this front as he began his new role as the Trade Minister of Indonesia.  The Council expresses our gratitude and offers him our full support in his new endeavor.  
Looking ahead, the Council will organize a welcome meeting for H.E. Manasvi Srisodapol, the new Ambassador of Thailand to the United States, with our members on March 31.  This intimate, off-the-record virtual meeting will be an opportunity for members to engage the Ambassador at the beginning of his tenure, understand his priorities, discuss ways in which U.S. companies can support the Royal Thai Government's COVID-19 economic recovery plan and underscore the Council's dedication to strengthening the U.S.-Thailand relationship.  We are excited to welcome Ambassador Manasvi to Washington and look forward to building upon our strong friendship with Thailand.
Thank you as always for your support.  I hope you and your families are well and enjoying the beginning of Spring.


 Upcoming Events

Virtual Farewell and Briefing with H.E. Muhammad Lutfi, Outgoing Ambassador of Indonesia to the U.S. and Incoming Minister of Trade of Indonesia, March 25
The Council will host an Exclusive Virtual Farewell Event in honor of the Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the United States, H.E. Muhammad Lutfi on March 25.  During the event, Minister Lutfi will brief our members on his goals and priorities as the recently appointed Trade Minister of Indonesia.  After serving as the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States since September 2020, Minister Lutfi plans to return to Jakarta at the end of this month.  During his brief posting in the United States, Minister Lutfi has shown a great commitment to expanding U.S.-Indonesia relations and intends to continue building upon this relationship with the Council as he began his new role as the Trade Minister of Indonesia.  Please contact Mega Valentina ( and Angga Antagia ( if you would like to join.
Virtual Briefing on the National Security Council's Views on ASEAN, March 25
The Council for an off the record discussion with National Security Council (NSC) Directors for Southeast Asia Henrietta Levin and Kathryn Paik, as well as Director of Climate Diplomacy and Energy Transformation Helaina Matza.  During the call, Director Levin and Director Paik will share NSC's plan for engagement in Southeast Asia and ASEAN from both regional and bilateral perspectives. In addition, Director Matza will touch on the administration’s climate and energy agenda as it relates to ASEAN, including latest updates on the upcoming Climate Summit.  This meeting will be an opportunity for members to share insights on how USABC and industry could work with the Biden administration on opportunities and challenges in Southeast Asia of importance to the business community.  If you have any questions, please contact Hai Pham ( and Kim Yaeger (
2021 Virtual Business Mission to the 7th AFMGM, March 25 - April 9
The Council is now registering senior-level executives for its 2021 Virtual Business Mission to the 7th ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors' Meeting (AFMGM) from March 25 - April 9, 2021.  The AFMGM will be hosted virtually by Brunei Darussalam.  Along with our annual plenary session, the mission will consist of bilateral meetings with the ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors.  As the region looks to recover from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council will seek to present our members’ policy recommendations on ESG finance, financial inclusion, digital trade, digital identity, insurance as an enabler of the digital economy and central bank digital currencies.  Please contact Steven Gunawan ( and Alberto Coria ( if you would like to join.
Welcome Meeting with His Excellency Manasvi Srisodapol, Ambassador of Thailand to the United States, March 31
The Council is pleased to invite you to an off-the-record, members-only Welcome Meeting with His Excellency Manasvi Srisodapol, Ambassador of Thailand to the United States.  Ambassador Manasvi has enjoyed a distinguished diplomatic career, most recently as Ambassador of Thailand to the Kingdom of Belgium in 2017, Special Representative of the Chair of the Group of 77 and China for Climate Change in 2016, and Ambassador of Thailand to the Republic of Poland in 2015.  We are excited to welcome Ambassador Manasvi to Washington on behalf of the U.S. business community.  Ahead of the meeting, the Council is requesting all members who plan to raise a question or comment to Ambassador Manasvi to please send that ahead of time at your earliest convenience to Hai Pham (, in order to better facilitate the conversation as well as allow the Ambassador's team to prepare for a more fruitful discussion.
2021 Health and Life Sciences Business Mission to Vietnam, April 5-6
The Council is organizing its annual Health & Life Sciences Industry Mission to Vietnam from April 5-6.  This year, the mission’s meetings will follow a hybrid format, in which meetings will include both virtual and in-person aspects.  As part of this mission, the Council will hold its 6th consecutive Joint Working Group Meeting to implement its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Vietnam Ministry of Health and organize a signing ceremony for our new MOU with the Vietnam Social Security agency.  Throughout our meetings during this mission, HLS committee members will continue to engage with the Vietnamese government and discuss priority issues in Vietnam’s health ecosystem as well as opportunities to support Vietnam’s post-COVID-19 recovery plan.  Please contact Hai Pham ( if you would like to join.

In The Press
SVP Marc Mealy Joins Panel Discussion on ‘Black Americans in ASEAN’ with US-ASEAN Youth Council
The Council’s Senior Vice President for Policy Marc Mealy participated in a panel discussion on February 24 hosted by the US-ASEAN Youth Council that highlighted the work of African American leaders in Southeast Asia.  Mealy was joined by Ambassador (ret.) Charles Ray, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia from 2003 to 2005.  The event coincided with the United States’ celebration of Black History Month, which honors the contributions of African-Americans throughout U.S. history.  A link to the US-ASEAN Youth Council’s website can be found here.
Manager for Indonesia and Brunei Mega Valentina Featured in ‘ASEAN and Multilateralism’ Panel Discussion with US-ASEAN Youth Council
The Council’s Manager for Indonesia and Brunei Mega Valentina participated in a panel discission on February 26 hosted by the US-ASEAN Youth Council that analyzed the history of the ASEAN Secretariat and the role it plays in promoting cooperation among ASEAN member states.  Valentina was joined by Alexander Boehmer, the Head of South and Southeast Asia at the OECD, Jonathan Tan, the Head of the Culture and Information Division at the ASEAN Secretariat, and Carlos Fong Luy, the US-ASEAN Youth Council’s Director of Partnerships.  A link to the US-ASEAN Youth Council’s website can be found here.
COVID-19 Update

As of March 24, Brunei Darussalam has eleven active cases of COVID-19, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 206.  While Royal Brunei Airlines has maintained limited service for essential travel to and from Hong Kong, Jakarta, London, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Melbourne, and Singapore, all other routes remain suspended until March 27.  Additionally, any travelers entering the country must isolate at a designed monitoring center for two weeks and produce a negative test result prior to entering the public domain.  On the vaccine front, the Chinese government donated an undisclosed number of Sinopharm vaccines to the Sultanate on February 10.  These are the first vaccines Brunei has received.  On March 11, Brunei’s Ministry of Health announced that it was deciding upon which additional vaccine(s) it plans on ordering for the country.  The competition is down to five candidates: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, and Johnson & Johnson.  YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar, Brunei’s health minister, indicated in January that the government is seeking to inoculate 70 percent of the population by the end of 2021.
Cambodia had a total of 780  active cases, 966 recovered cases, and 4 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths as of March 23.  Upwards of 800 cases were reported in the past month alone, as a majority of cases have stemmed from the February 20 Community Transmission outbreak.  Since March 4, all travel to and from Preah Sihanouk Province has been suspended until further notice, with exceptions for ambulances and transport of goods.  Moreover, the Ministry of Health confirmed at least 12 cases from new COVID-19 variants and cautions residents to remain vigilant about maintaining health protocols as the variant is quickly spreading in Phnom Penh and nearby provinces.  On March 9, the Ministry of Education announced an extension of state and private school closures in Phnom Penh, Kandal province, and Preah Sihanouk province.  Furthermore, on March 11, Cambodia introduced the Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of Covid-19 and Other Serious, Dangerous and Contagious Diseases to establish more stringent control measures and encourage public health protocols.  The law outlines penalties for those who fail to adhere to social distancing measures, including but not limited to a fine of 200,000 to one million riel for not wearing masks in essential places.  On the vaccine front, Cambodia received its first batch of 324,000 vaccine doses procured through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative on March 2, and Prime Minister Hun Sen was the first to be inoculated on March 4.
With 1.47 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 23, Indonesia continues to be the hardest-hit country in ASEAN by the coronavirus pandemic.  The nation registered an increase of around 200,000 new infections in the month-long interval between mid-February and mid-March 2021 – slightly less than the number of new cases that were tallied between mid-January and mid-February this year.  The daily reported average of new cases is 45 percent of what it was in January, when new infections were at their peak.  This is a welcome development, given that some experts were predicting the nation’s epidemic was beginning to spiral “out of control” as recently as last month.  After receiving its first shipment of 1.1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses on March 8, Indonesia on March 15 temporarily suspended its planned rollout of the vaccine, following reports of blood-clotting among some recipients of the immunization (the WHO and other international bodies have stressed there is no evidence the vaccine is the cause of these).  Indonesia is slated to receive another 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by April.  Meanwhile, the country continues to rely solely on the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine for its public vaccination campaign, albeit plans are in the pipeline to receive the U.S.-made Pfizer and Novavax vaccines.  To help expedite the vaccination process, the Indonesian government is allowing private companies to purchase and distribute vaccines to their employees and their families.  Over 11,500 businesses have thus far signed up to participate in the “Gotong Royong” or “Mutual Assistance” program, and it is believed that up to 30 million Indonesians might be inoculated through this program this year.  The program is considering using the Chinese-made Sinopharm, the Russian-made Sputnik, and the American-made Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines, as the Government has mandated that the immunizations used for the private program cannot be the same as those used in the public campaign.  Public activity restrictions remain in place throughout much of the country (and vary greatly by province and locality), while entry into Indonesia remains prohibited for foreigners, except those in possession of a valid residence permit.
Laos has had 49 total cases of COVID-19 as of March 23, with only 3 active cases and 0 deaths.  Most public activities have resumed operation, including public transportation, restaurants, grocery stores, entertainment venues, and schools and universities.  International and commercial flights remain suspended until March 31, with the exceptions of some international flights and weekly UN humanitarian flights.  Visas likewise continue to be suspended for all foreign nationals (business and diplomatic visas may still be permitted).  Additionally, all foreign citizens entering Laos are required to purchase COVID-19 insurance prior to entry.  This insurance may be issued by either an international provider or Laos-based insurance company.  In terms of vaccines, Laos continues to administer its initial batch of Sinopharm vaccines received from China in early February.  This batch of 300,000 vaccine doses was prioritized for the inoculation of at-risk individuals, including healthcare workers, quarantine center workers, and international border checkpoint officials. As of March 17, upwards of 40,000 individuals in these groups received the first dose of the vaccine.
There are 14,134 active COVID-19 cases in Malaysia as of March 22, of which 1,116 are new cases. On March 16, Malaysia logged the lowest daily case figure in 4 months at 1,063 new cases, continuing a steady decline in cases over the past month.  Now, the total cumulative case count is 332,156.  On March 8, Malaysia declared it would buy more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, bringing the country’s official secured dose total to 32 million.  In addition to Pfizer-BioNTech, Malaysia has agreements with other COVAX suppliers including AstraZeneca, Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, and China’s Sinovac Biotech and CanSino.  The goal is to get 80 percent of the population vaccinated by December of this year to obtain herd immunity.  On March 17, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the Movement control order would only be focused on high infection areas, including Selangor which has the highest infection rate.  On top of relaxing MCO restrictions, there will be new government grants and subsidies equivalent to RM 20 billion (US$4.9 billion).  On March 23, Malaysia and Singapore’s Foreign Ministers met to work together on vaccination programs including recognizing each other’s vaccine certificates, managing foreign residents living in each other's countries, and cross-border green lane agreements.
As of March 23, Myanmar reported 14 new cases and has confirmed 142,264 cases of COVID-19 within its borders and 3,204 deaths.  Since the start of the military coup in Myanmar, tensions continue to escalate, and the country’s response to COVID-19 has been severely damaged.  Even though, as reported by the state media, several groups of people including civil service personnel and adults over 65 years are slowly getting inoculated, many healthcare workers have been on strike and joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) nationwide.  Due to this, there have been notable stalls in COVID-19 testing, quarantine and isolation, clinical care and vaccination process for the wider public.  Regarding travel information, in addition to relief flights, some international commercial relief flights have resumed, departing Yangon.  Economic recovery efforts have been minimal.  However, the CRPH, acting in the capacity of Union Parliament, approved the amendment to the 2020 Union Taxation Law to suspend any and all tax collection until September 30.  The statement specifically called on Customs officials and respective ministerial departments involved in tax collection to suspend all activities.  This move is reportedly intended to support the general public amidst financial hardships due to COVID-19 and to deter the military-led SAC from misappropriating public funds.
The Philippines Department of Health (DOH) announced a record daily rise of 8,019 COVID-19 cases on March 22, bringing total cases to 671,792 and total deaths to 12,972.  On March 15, Metro Manila agreed to impose uniform curfew hours for two weeks, from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM to curb the spread of COVID-19.  Aside from the curfew, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair said mayors will also impose granular lockdowns in areas with significant clusters of COVID-19 cases.  Furthermore, the Government has also decided to temporarily ban the daily entry of 1,500 foreigners and limit the entry of returning Filipinos at Manila’s international airport.  Despite some delays in vaccine procurement, more than 216,000 medical frontline workers out of a total of 1.7 million have been vaccinated since March 16.  The Government aims to inoculate 70 million of its 108 million people by the end of this year.  The Philippines has been rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination program since March 1, using 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines from China and 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX facility.  Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said that the country is still waiting for about 2.3 million more vaccine doses from Sinovac and AstraZeneca to arrive by late March or early April.
Singapore has 308 new COVID-19 cases, 301 of which were imported, 1 dormitory resident transmission case, and 6 were community transmission since February 26.  As of March 15, Singapore has administered 792,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.  This adds to 549,000 individuals having received their first dose and 243,000 having received both doses.  All senior citizens are now eligible to be vaccinated.  24 vaccination centers are in operation, in addition to 20 polyclinic and 22 Public Health Preparedness Clinics which are offering vaccines.  Seven more clinics are expected to open starting March 17.  There is a financial assistance program for individuals who were hospitalized with COVID-19 or the families who lost loved ones.  Additionally, starting on March 10, foreign employees will be able to visit recreation centers more easily with a three week pass instead of single week passes.  On March 23, Singapore and Malaysia’s Foreign Ministers met to work together on vaccination programs including recognizing each other’s vaccine certificates, managing foreign residents living in each other's countries, and cross-border green lane agreements.
While Thailand’s second wave of infections has dramatically slowed in the past month, with only 684 active COVID-19 cases as of March 15, the Royal Thai Government reported a sharp uptick in cases on March 23.  Almost 400 new cases were added to the tally, with a majority of the cases found through mass, community testing at an immigration facility in Bangkok.  The total caseload stands at 28,277 infections since the start of the pandemic over a year ago and 92  total deaths.  The state of emergency order has been extended until the end of March, but the government has approved proposals to ease restrictions in certain provinces, including to reopen bars and nightclubs and allowing the service of alcohol at restaurants.  The Samut Sakhon province remains the only maximum controlled area with strict control measures, while 54 provinces are now classified as surveillance areas that allow most businesses and venues to reopen (while still maintaining safety protocols).  Thailand launched its national vaccine rollout using the Sinovac vaccine on March 1, with almost 25,000 people targeted to be inoculated with the first dose during the first week.  The initial batch of 200,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine will primarily go towards vaccinating priority groups, including healthcare workers and medically at-risk individuals.  The Sinovac vaccine is only approved for individuals aged 18 to 59.  The majority of this vaccine supply will be allocated to hospitals in the Bangkok and Samut Sakhon provinces.  Additionally, Thai officials were initially planning to roll out the recently approved 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine beginning on Thursday, March 11, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha being the first to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.  However, the Thai cabinet has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports of blood clots as a side effect from European countries, and investigations into the safety of the vaccine are likely to delay rollout of the AstraZeneca doses by at least 2 weeks.  The mass vaccination plan is slated to begin in June, with government officials aiming to distribute 10 million doses per month.
Vietnam’s second surge of COVID-19 cases has slowed down considerably.  As of March 22, there are 307 active cases in Vietnam, down from a peak of 720 active cases on February 17.  The total cases have amounted to 2,575 and resulted in 35 deaths as of March 23.  Several northern provinces include Hai Duong and Quang Ninh lifted restrictions on March 3 and March 11, respectively, although large gatherings and indoor meetings are still restricted in Hai Duong province.  The country received its first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines (117,600 doses) late last month, and began rolling out its vaccination campaign on March 8.  Vietnam has secured up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine this year from multiple sources, including WHO’s COVAX Facility and through private manufacturers.  On March 17, Vietnam’s health minister, Nguyen Thanh Long, affirmed that the AstraZeneca rollout would continue, despite other countries having temporarily suspended their use of the immunization following reports of blood-clotting among some recipients.  As of March 18, 24,054 medical staff and frontline workers had received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  Currently, Vietnam has resumed commercial flights to seven Asian destinations: mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, but Vietnamese carriers are still not allowed to operate inbound flights.  On March 8, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism hosted a workshop to discuss ways of reopening the country’s borders to international travelers providing the conditions permit.

Country, Industry and Advocacy Updates
Key Developments 

S$107 Billion Singapore National Budget Approved
On March 16, President Halimah Yacob gave her formal assent to the Supply Bill.  S$11 billion (US$8.2 billion) will be drawn from past reserves to fund the COVID-19 Resilience Package, which covers public health and safe re-opening measures including the national vaccination program, continued support for firms and workers, and targeted support for worst-hit sectors like aviation and tourism.  On March 8, the Singapore Parliament had approved the Government's $107 billion (US$79.6 billion) spending plans for the coming financial year which starts in April.  Nine days of Committee of Supply Debate featured contentious issues including opposition to the goods and services (GST) tax hike, which would be raised from 7 percent to 9 percent between next year and 2025.  Singapore is set to incur the largest deficit of S$64.9 billion (US$48.4 billion) in FY2020, prompting the government to no longer delay the tax hike.  The GST tax hike and environmental concerns are issues that are expected to resurface and to be debated again in the Singapore Parliament, exposing the differences between the leading People’s Action Party and opposition Worker’s Party.  An analytical update on the 2021 Budget Announcement is available here.
Indonesian Draft Law Regulating Bank Indonesia
Indonesia’s parliament is currently discussing a draft law seeking to increase government oversight of Bank Indonesia’s activities and introduce revisions to the current framework outlining the central bank’s role in financing government debt.  The reform proposals included in the draft law would require Bank Indonesia to account for the government’s broader economic strategy when implementing monetary policies, and extend their responsibilities to include job creation, sustainable economic growth, and financial system stability.  Ultimately, the draft legislation would expand the central bank’s role in supporting economic growth and employment, in addition to its current mandate of maintaining price stability.  As an attempt to sway critics, the latest iteration of the draft law outlines additional measures to ensure central bank autonomy and includes a provision stating that Bank Indonesia can “reject and/or ignore any form of interference from any party in the context of carrying out [its duties]” and “[Other parties are] ...prohibited from engaging in any form of interference in the implementation of Bank Indonesia duties.” The draft law also acknowledges that monetary policy should be kept “objective and free from political interests.” Nonetheless, the latest proposal incorporates many of the same language and mandates from the initial draft law. The Council will update our members as efforts to move this legislation forward continue to develop.
Malaysia’s Digital Economy Blueprint
The Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department recently launched the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint (“MyDIGITAL”).  The comprehensive document lays out plans for Malaysia to become a regional leader in the digital economy and achieve inclusive, responsible, and sustainable socioeconomic development.  Recognizing the importance of adopting secure and ethical digital technology infrastructure, Malaysia outlines an approach to build socio-environmental well-being for all, business growth in all sectors and a fit-for-future government.  The implementation of this Blueprint is divided into three phases: (i) 2021 to 2022 - strengthening the foundation of digital adoption; (ii) 2023 to 2025 - driving inclusive digital transformation and (iii) 2026 to 2030 - making Malaysia a digital content and cybersecurity lead.  The three objectives of the Blueprint are to encourage industry players to become creators, users and adopters of innovative business models; harness human capital to thrive in the digital economy; and nurture an integrated ecosystem that allows society to embrace digital economy.  In achieving these objectives, the Malaysian government acknowledges the crucial role of the private sector and aims to provide the policy environment for business to drive the nation’s digital ambitions.  An analytical update on this subject is available here.
Switzerland Approves FTA with Indonesia
Voters in Switzerland narrowly approved a referendum on a free trade agreement with Indonesia in a slim 51.7-48.3 percent vote on March 7.  The agreement eliminates Swiss duties on all imports of Indonesian industrial products, while reducing tariffs on many agricultural goods, includingpalm oil.  In exchange, Jakarta will lift duties on 98 percent of Swiss exports to Indonesia.  Negotiated by Indonesia and the European Free Trade Association – a regional bloc that includes Switzerland, Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway – between 2007 and 2018, the deal was passed by the Swiss parliament in 2019.  However, charging that Indonesia’s palm oil industry engages in unsustainable environmental and social practices, a coalition of Swiss environmental and anti-globalization NGOs managed to secure enough support to force a popular referendum on the deal.  Now that Swiss
 voters have approved the deal through the referendum, Switzerland will now reduce tariffs by 20-40 percent on up to 12,500 tons of imported Indonesian palm oil per year, so long as the imports meet certain sustainability criteria.
Philippines to Consider Revising Downstream Natural Gas Regulations
The Philippines House Energy Committee on March 2 voted to advance a draft substitute bill to replace the proposed Downstream Natural Gas Industry Development Act or House Bill No. 3031.  HB No. 3031 seeks to codify and integrate existing regulations into a single, comprehensive framework to encourage the rapid development of the Philippines’ downstream gas sector to reach “mature industry status.”  Introduced by House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and Representative Wilter Palma II in 2019, the bill is reportedly a major legislative priority of the Speaker’s.  The draft substitute bill — which overrides HB No. 3031 — was approved by the House Energy Committee without three of its provisions: Sections 38, 39 and 40.  These establish guidelines related to the mandatory share of natural gas in the Philippine Energy Plan, offtake support and security and capacity and reserve markets, respectively.  Proving to be a point of contention during the Committee meeting on the bill, these provisions will now be sent to either a technical working group or the House floor to receive amendments.  Natural gas comprised 14 percent of the Philippines’ installed power capacity in 2018, nearly all of which was sourced from the Malampaya field in the West Philippine Sea.  However, Manila anticipates the field will likely be exhausted by 2024.  Consequently, in its 2018-2040 Energy Plan, the Department of Energy wrote that a long-term strategy of the Philippines was to “accelerate the implementation of LNG projects” to ensure the security of its natural gas supplies.  
Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade Released Draft National Power Development Plan VIII
After Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) issued a draft National Power Development Plan VIII (PDP8) for 2021-2030, with a vision to 2045, the Council hosted a special briefing on March 10 with Mr. Nguyen Thanh Ha, Principal of Vietbid Consulting, who provided his insight on PDP 8 and the development of the draft.  He emphasized that Vietnam aims to decrease coal-fired power and increase gas and renewable energy in the national total installed capacity.  PDP8 also proposes policies toward this goal, including keeping FIT mechanism selectively, introducing mechanisms to bid or replace investors for projects, and allowing investors to invest in transmission lines.  The PDP8 estimated that Vietnam needs US$128.3 billion of investment capital to develop its electricity industry from 2021 to 2030, including US$95.4 billion for electricity and US$32.9 billion for the grid.  To meet GDP growth requirements, the plan forecasted the supply of commercial electricity to reach 491 billion kWh by 2030, and 877 billion kWh by 2045.  By 2045, the plan aims for the total installed capacity to reach nearly 276.7 GW, including 18 percent from coal-fired thermal power, 24 percent from gas thermal power, 9 percent from hydroelectricity, 44 percent from wind power, solar and renewable energy, 2 percent from imported sources, and 3 percent from other types of energy from storage devices.  The PDP8 also proposed a power grid development program, which states that Vietnam will continue to build 500 kW power transmission systems to transfer electricity from major power source centers in the Central Highlands, south-central, north-central and central regions to the large load centers in HCM City and the Red River Delta. 
Myanmar’s Coup introduces Uncertainties for Local and Foreign Businesses
Following the closure of banks since February 1, the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) has announced all banks will lower their limits on cash withdrawals from ATMs and bank accounts.  This went into effect starting March 1.  The regulations allow for individuals to withdraw a maximum of 500,000 Kyats (US$354) from ATMs per day and a maximum of 2 million kyats (US$1,420) per week from private bank accounts.  Companies and organizations will be allowed to withdraw a maximum of 20 million kyats (US$14,200) per week.  Private banks are currently refusing to provide payroll services, which have taken a toll on businesses and caused delays in wage payments.  The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have issued statements halting payments to projects in Myanmar, which may impede the country’s economic growth.  Locally, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), the largest local organization representing the interests of the private sector, has ceased all operations until further notice.  Foreign business chambers, including AmCham and EuroCham, have publicly turned down requests by the military-led Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations to meet with them.  To see the announcement, please click here.  In addition, several foreign companies in the oil and gas sector were targeted to participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), citing that their work is benefiting the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which in turn is funding the military regime.
USAID Establishes New Agricultural Partnership with Cambodia
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) rolled out an agricultural partnership competition that focuses on identifying solutions to several significant challenges in Cambodia's agricultural sector, relating to cold chains, storage capacity, and logistics in Phnom Penh.  This competition is directed at private sector entrepreneurs to encourage the creation and expansion of sustainable food and agricultural supply chains.  Financial awards will be granted to companies to promote the revitalization of Cambodia's agriculture sector.  The program was first launched on February 24 of this year and will provide grants of up to US$3.5 million to fund companies participating in this competition.  USAID received private sector appraisals regarding its initiative to develop and improve Cambodia's agriculture sector in terms of its value chain (vegetables).  Kan Panharith, production manager at local agribusiness Davane Plc, which specializes in agricultural value chains and markets for food safety, noted that the competition's overall aim to develop a market system for local agricultural products is in line with his business philosophy.  "In fact, it is one of the four pillars of our grand plan – to develop a market system for local agricultural products."   This competition aims to aid Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture to achieve its Agriculture Sector Development Plan 2019-2023 based on market-driven solutions.
ASEAN Tourism Ministers Adopt the Phnom Penh Declaration on a More Sustainable, Inclusive, and Resilient ASEAN Tourism, updated ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016 – 2025
At the 24th ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meeting, the ministers adopted the updated ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016 – 2025 with mitigation plans and actions that employ digital technology to be more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive. The identified new priority programs include: (i) adoption of measures and initiatives to support the digitization of ASEAN Tourism, (ii) strengthening the data and information network, and (iii) activities to promote connectivity and travel facilitation to and within ASEAN. The Ministers also welcomed the new ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy (ATMS) 2021-2025, which sets out the marketing roadmap for ASEAN as a single tourism destination and encouraged the relevant Committees and Working Group to work together to achieve the defined objectives, including, among others, to raise consideration amongst target segments and markets for Southeast Asia as a holiday destination by 10 percent by 2025. They also welcomed the Study on the Impact of COVID-19 as well as the Recommendations for Policies and Best Practices for the Post-COVID-19 Recovery Plan for ASEAN Tourism in December 2020, supported by the Government of Canada through the Canadian Trade and Investment Facility for Development (CTIF).  Additionally, they supported the development of a Post-Covid-19 Recovery Plan based on the study, as one of the priority economic deliverables during Brunei Darussalam’s ASEAN chairmanship. The Ministers also adopted the Phnom Penh declaration, which endeavors to develop opportunities for MSMEs and enhance upskilling and re-training of affected tourism workers.  
Thailand Vaccine Passport
As local and global vaccine campaigns get underway , Thailand looks to begin reopening the economy and resuming regional and international travel.  The Public Health Ministry has requested the government to reduce quarantine periods for travelers to 7-10 days beginning in April.  The Ministry has further indicated that there is a possibility for quarantine requirements to be waived entirely after October for those with vaccine certificates, if Thailand meets its anticipated quota of vaccinating 70 percent of medical workers and at-risk individuals by this timeframe.  The Royal Thai Government will issue WHO-approved vaccine certificates to all Thai citizens who have received two doses of the vaccine.  Currently, officials from the Public Health Ministry and the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration are discussing vaccine passport criteria and implementation.  There are also some signals of introducing a bilateral electronic vaccine passport deal between Thailand and China, as well as travel bubble plans with similarly vaccinated countries by the third quarter of this year.  While the government seeks to be cautious in coordinating a vaccine passport plan in compliance with WHO standards, strong pushes for a vaccine passport approval from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the private sector may accelerate Thailand’s reopening of its borders and resumption of travel and tourism.
Singapore to Issue Green Bonds in 2021
Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat announced that the government will be issuing green bonds under the 2021 budget, with S$19 billion worth of public infrastructure projects already identified to be financed under this initiative.  According to Minister Heng, the Government-sponsored green bonds will enable an acceleration of green finance initiatives by increasing market liquidity for green bonds and encouraging green investment.  These green infrastructure bonds are “expected to be priced at a premium over Singapore Government Securities bonds, due to their novelty in the market,” as noted by DBS Global Head of Fixed Income Clifford Lee.  The Government aims for its green bond issuances to serve as a reference in terms of standards, frameworks, and yields on investment for the private sector and bond issuers in both Asia and around the world.  The increase in sustainability-linked language and frameworks for bond issuance will standardize Singapore’s green bond market and spur private sector demand.  Further, green bonds issued by the Singapore Government will prompt the development of the external reviewer market for green finance, which will ultimately reduce costs for private firms seeking access to reviewing agencies.  Thus, the government’s green bond initiative well positions Singapore to become a green finance hub, both regionally and internationally.
Singapore Green Plan 2030
The Singapore Green Plan 2030 (the “Plan”) incorporates the country’s sustainability objectives from previous national plans (such as the Land Transport Master Plan 2040, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2019 and the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015) and integrates them with new targets to form a single, comprehensive strategy.  The goals laid out in the document are separated into five pillars (1) City in Nature, (2) Sustainable Living, (3) Energy Reset, (4) Green Economy and (5) Resilient Future.  The “City in Nature” pillar contains a variety of initiatives that both preserve and enhance Singapore’s natural landscape.  The “Sustainable Living” pillar seeks to incorporate sustainability into citizens’ daily routines.  The “Energy Reset” pillar seeks to reduce Singapore’s carbon footprint by using cleaner energy sources and adopting more energy efficient technologies.  The “Green Economy” pillar lays out a framework for how Singapore can capitalize on evolving consumer preferences for sustainable goods and services.  Finally, as Singapore is a low-lying island state vulnerable to the effects of rising sea levels, planning for a “Resilient Future” is essential.  Click here for the complete analytical update.

Current Advocacy 

Call for Input: Project Proposals for the Memorandum of Understanding with the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
During our previous Food & Agriculture Industry Mission to Vietnam, the Council's F&A Committee and the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalize and enhance public-private cooperation in Vietnam's agriculture sector.  The Council is planning a virtual F&A industry mission to Vietnam on April 22-23 which will engage the MARD on project submissions.  A formal invitation for the 2021 Virtual F&A Mission to Vietnam will be sent in due course.  Please use the linked form and submit your inputs to J-Ren Ong ( and Minh Vu ( and copy Hai Pham ( and Bui Kim Thuy (  Please submit your input forms by COB, Friday, April 2(Vietnam Time).
Call for Input: Vietnam Personal Data Protection Law
The Vietnam Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on February 9 published a new draft of the Personal Data Protection Decree (PDP Decree).  The draft is open for public comments until April 9.  Unlike other normal decrees, the PDP Decree does not implement a specific law and as such will require a more stringent process for adoption, including review and approval by the National Assembly.  Please find linked a translation of the draft decree and an analysis by the Council.  The Council is preparing a submission to MPS and the government on the new draft.  Please send your comments to Vu Tu Thanh ( and Minh Vu ( by COB Friday, March 26.  The Council will circulate the draft for members' review before submitting to the MPS and the government by April 9.  The Council is also preparing an advocacy program on the PDP Decree, including, commissioning a report on international best practices on data privacy to policymakers, conducting roundtable and workshops.  To indicate interest for sponsorship for this advocacy program or for more information, please contact Vu Tu Thanh (, Hai Pham ( and Minh Vu (
Indonesia Government Regulation No. 46 on Post, Telecommunication and Broadcasting (Omnibus Law Implementing Regulation)
The Government of Indonesia has finally signed the Government Regulation on Post, Telecommunication and Broadcasting as part of the Omnibus Law’s (Law No. 11/2020) implementing regulations.  Concerns have been previously raised about Article 15 related to mandatory cooperation between foreign online content/service providers with telecommunications network or service operators in Indonesia.  After our advocacy efforts, the Government removed the mandatory cooperation requirement in the signed regulation.  The provisions still state however, that ISPs/telecommunication companies can manage the internet traffic of business actors who are not subject to mandatory cooperation, with an elucidation provision stating that such action should be conducted based on ‘the principles of fair business competition.  The Council is now monitoring the implementation of the GR, especially on the possibility of having another consultation for the draft Ministerial Regulation.
Myanmar Electronic Transactions Law and Draft Cybersecurity Law
On February 16, the State Administration Council added amendments to the existing Myanmar Electronic Transactions Law.  These amendments addressed penalties of up to three year in prison or fines when convicted of creating misinformation with the intent of causing public panic and social division and cyber violence or cyber-attacks with the intent to threaten or disturb national sovereignty, peace and stability.  This move came after the military government prepared and issued a draft Cybersecurity Law and requested feedback from selected businesses and associations.  Upon receiving an overwhelmingly negative response from the business community and industry associations, and direct recommendations to not proceed with this bill, the military government opted to move forward with this amendment to existing legislation rather than pass an entirely new Cybersecurity Law.   These new sections cover a significantly narrower scope than the Cybersecurity Bill that was originally circulated; this amendment says nothing about data storage and localization, licensing of service providers, or registering online businesses, for example, and focuses squarely on data privacy.  This enabled the regime to sidestep the critique of the proposed law while still quickly passing the key provisions they considered critical to their immediate goals.  It is unknown yet if this regime has plans to revisit the broader Cybersecurity Law.
Philippines Internet Transactions Act (ITA)
The Council is tracking the development of the Philippines Internet Transactions Act and is looking to engage the Philippine Senate and Department of Trade and Industry through a USAID-led policy dialogue to be held in late March.  The ITA House bill was approved in November 2020 and transmitted to the Senate while the Senate Bill (1592 and 1808) is under joint committee review (by Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship and Committee on Ways and Means and Finance).  The bills are targeted to be passed by December 2021. For more information, please contact the Philippines team.
Philippines Retail Trade Liberalization Act Amendments (RTA)
Thank you to members who have submitted inputs to the draft Retail Trade Act Amendments, Senate version (SBN 1840) on Sections 3 and 5.  The Council is tracking the development of the Retail Trade Liberalization Act Amendments which has passed the House and was transmitted to the Senate in March 2020.  It is pending a second reading in the Senate and targeted to be passed by June 2021.  The Council is looking to convene a discussion with members in March and exploring an engagement with the Senate on RTA. For more information, please contact the Philippines team.
Vietnam Ministry of Finance E-commerce and Digital-based Tax
The Ministry of Finance (MOF) recently published a draft circular to implement the Law on Tax Administration which includes rules on e-commerce and digital-based taxes.  The Council has been engaging with the drafting team at MOF's General Department of Taxation (GDT) on this issue.  Council staff spoke at a workshop organized by GDT on March 19 and another workshop organized by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) on March 22.  Prior to the workshops, the Council had submitted the first round of its members’ comments to MOF.  Both the submission and comments at the GDT workshop were much appreciated by the drafting team, but MOF is under pressure to issue this circular in the coming weeks.  The Council is planning a call on this circular to align advocacy strategies among members and submit a position paper to the government.  The Council is also calling for sponsorship for the advocacy program on this Draft Circular.  For more information or to indicate interest, please contact Vu Tu Thanh (
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