President's Newsletter - April 2021

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

Dear Members,

On behalf of the US-ASEAN Business  Council, I wish those in Thailand a Happy Songkran and those in Myanmar a Happy Thingyan.  To all our Muslim friends observing the holy month of Ramadan today in Asia, I wish you peace and happiness.  Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the military coup, I hope you and your families can find the time and space to renew and find a path forward, even in the darkest of times.
The military has positioned its troops across the major cities in Myanmar this past month.  Myanmar’s 47th Armed Forces Day on March 27 was the deadliest day of the coup to date – an estimated 114 unarmed civilians were killed, among them innocent bystanders and young children.  The weekend preceding Thingyan saw close to 100 unarmed protestors massacred by the military in Bago, and the situation in the Sagaing region continues to be tense, with a growing number of violent confrontations between security forces and protestors.  As of now, protests continue, with arson cases and arbitrary arrests reported daily, but the military has paused its mass killing spree for now.  Since the coup began, 745 people have died, and 3,059 civilians have been arrested.
The domestic political situation in Myanmar remains extraordinarily tenuous.  During a press conference on April 9, the State Administrative Council (SAC) reported that the one-year state of emergency has been extended and that elections will be held within two years to re-transition towards democratic rule.  At the same time, the elected civilian government in hiding, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), continues to pressure the State Administrative Council (SAC).  After declaring the revocation of Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution, the CRPH on April 16 announced the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG), a new democratic government consisting of parliamentarians, civilian activists and organizers, and leaders and members of ethnic armed groups.  Conflicts between the military and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) have also significantly increased this past month, notably in Kachin State, Karen State and Northern Shan State.
From an international perspective, the United States has dialed up its economic pressure on Myanmar.  On April 21, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added two Burmese state-owned enterprises, Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE) and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise (MPE), to its list of sanctioned entities and businesses after adding Myanma Gems Enterprise (MGE) to the same list on April 8.  On March 29, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) suspended all engagements under the U.S.-Myanmar Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which bars USTR from engaging with SAC ministries and representatives on any bilateral trade issues.  These dialogues will only resume after the restoration of the democratically elected government of Myanmar.  On the ASEAN front, Malaysia and Brunei released a joint statement that an emergency leaders’ summit has been called to address the situation in Myanmar.  The meeting will be held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, on April 24.  Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is expected to join the summit virtually.
As the Biden-Harris Administration continues to take shape, the Council congratulates two friends on their recent nominations: Ely Ratner on his nomination to serve as the next Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs and Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink, who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam since 2017, on his nomination to serve as the next Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  Ambassador Kritenbrink, once confirmed, will succeed Acting Assistant Secretary Sung Y. Kim, who continues to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia.  The Council partnered with the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi to co-host a special farewell dinner for Ambassador Kritenbrink on April 13, featuring members of our business community, senior Vietnamese government officials of both the old and new administrations, and friends in the diplomatic community.  Ambassador Kritenbrink has been a great friend to both the U.S. business community and Vietnam, and we look forward to our continued partnership once he returns to Washington. 
The Council is pleased that Marc Evans Knapper, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, will return to Hanoi as Ambassador to Vietnam as Ambassador Kritenbrink’s succesor.  He previously served as political affairs counselor in Hanoi from 2004 to 2007.  He is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Japan and Korea in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department.
Vietnam’s 14th National Assembly voted on its new leadership, including the new Chairman and the new State President, and approved a major government reshuffle that includes the new Prime Minister and most of the cabinet in the final session of its tenure on April 8.  Please find a detailed list of the new government officials here.  This government will serve through May 23, when elections will be held for the 15th National Assembly.  The new National Assembly will meet in June to vote on the new Chairman, State President, Prime Minister and cabinet for the 2021-2026 tenure.  Most of the newly appointed officials in key positions are expected to be reconfirmed by the new National Assembly in June, but there is a slim chance that some ministerial positions may change hands.
Singapore’s leadership also made headlines on April 8 when Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced his decision to step aside as 4G leader of the People's Action Party (PAP), effectively passing on the opportunity to become the next Prime Minister of Singapore.  He will relinquish his portfolio as Finance Minister but will stay on as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, as well as Chairman of the National Research Foundation under the Prime Minister's Office.  There is much speculation regarding the implications of DPM Heng's decision on Singapore's leadership succession.  Political analysts point to the four core members of the 4G team who will likely replace him as 4G leader and eventually become Prime Minister: Trade Minister Chan Chun Sing (51), Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung (51), Education Minister Lawrence Wong (48), and National Development Minister Desmond Lee (44).  The Prime Minister will announce a Cabinet reshuffle and a new Finance Minister in the next two weeks.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is likely to stay as Prime Minister until the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Our COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force has made significant progress in just the first few months of this year, including establishing four Council-driven initiatives to support the region’s recovery, expanding our Task Force to include new members with expertise in financial services and travel and tourism, and holding our first Executive Dialogue Session on Improving Health Outcomes with Brunei’s Ministry of Health and Philippine Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.  Looking ahead, we are holding our second Executive Dialogue Session on Restoring Confidence in the Consumer Economy later this week with Minister Mustapa from Malaysia, Minister Sandiaga Uno from Indonesia and Minister Desmond Lee from Singapore where we will discuss programs to upskill and reskill mSMEs as well as revitalize travel, tourism and hospitality.  We have also begun holding dialogues with the developers of digital travel pass applications, including The Commons Project and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), to explore partnerships that will facilitate a swift but safe return to travel in the region and around the world.  Although the road to recovery is a long-drawn battle, the U.S. private sector remains committed to supporting ASEAN through the pandemic and beyond.
Our Sustainability Committee was proud to host our Women’s Economic Empowerment in ASEAN panel discussion held on March 22.  Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer and the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Singapore Embassy in Washington, D.C., Cindy Wee, provided opening remarks.  The Council then moderated a lively panel discussion focused on opportunities to promote gender equality and women entrepreneurs in ASEAN, which included an incredible lineup of speakers:  Shinta Kamdani, CEO of Sintesa Group; Julie Chen, Director of ASEAN at USAID; Belinda Ford, Vice President for Public Affairs, Sustainability and Communications, ASEAN and South Pacific at Coca-Cola; Fatimah Alsagoff, Director of Public Affairs, APAC at UPS; and Beth Ann Lim, Director of Policy Programs and Government Outreach for APAC at Facebook and Global Head of SheMeansBusiness.
The Council also virtually attended the 7th annual ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting (AFMGM) under the chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam.  During the plenary meeting on March 30, the ministers and central bank governors discussed at length the facilitation of a digital, sustainable and inclusive post-crisis recovery.  Initiatives under Brunei’s three priority economic deliverables were officially endorsed during the AFMGM, including the 9th ASEAN Framework on Services (AFAS) Protocol on Financial Services for encouraging financial services liberalization and the ASEAN Taxonomy Board for developing sustainable finance standards.  The Council presented our policy recommendations regarding ESG finance, financial inclusion, insurance as an enabler of the digital economy, central bank digital currencies, digital identity, and financial data at the plenary session.  The Council was additionally able to secure bilateral meetings with the ministries of finance and central banks of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
The Council organized a welcome meeting with H.E. Manasvi Srisodapol, Ambassador of Thailand to the U.S., on March 31.  More than 100 members and the Ambassador’s full team at the Royal Thai Embassy, including the Deputy Chief of Mission and Counsellors responsible for Economic Affairs, Commercial Affairs, Agriculture, Investment (based in New York), and Customs (based in Brussels) attended the meeting.  The Ambassador shared his priorities for the coming years and Thailand’s economic outlook, and engaged members on how U.S. companies can support the Royal Thai Government’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan and strengthen the overall trade and investment relationship.  In particular, the Ambassador highlighted various areas of cooperation within the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and emphasized Thailand’s recent ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which presents immense opportunities in the years to come.
On April 6, the Council launched its inaugural Fireside Chat series of 2021 with Philippine Senator and Ways and Means Committee Chair Pia Cayetano on the topic of celebrating Women in Leadership in the Philippines.  Senator Cayetano shared her priorities under the recently created committee Sustainability, Innovation, and Futures Thinking focused on bills that promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  After Senator Cayetano’s presentation, Bettina Luz, 3M Country Leader, engaged her on smart cities and gender empowerment in STEM and in leadership roles.  The Council thanks 3M and Citibank for sponsoring this event.  Key follow-up activities to this fireside chat are a CREATE tax reform briefing and SDG workshops.
To celebrate 75 years of U.S.-Philippines bilateral ties, the Council partnered with the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. on an April 14 webinar.  The Council moderated the government panel with Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, USAID Acting Administrator Gloria Steele, and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s COO David Marchick.  The leadership of the Council’s Philippines Committee participated in the private sector panel, which included Philip Vaughn of Fluor, Aileen Judan-Jiao of IBM, and Antonio del Rosario of Coca-Cola.
Thank you as always for your support.


 Upcoming Events

2021 Virtual Philippines Business Mission, May 17-21
On May 17-21, the Council will lead a delegation of senior executives to meet with key officials of the Philippine Government, including members of the Duterte cabinet and leading members of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives.  Mission themes include supporting the Philippines’ COVID-19 response and recovery, accelerating digital transformation, improving ease of doing business and economic liberalization, and reinforcing U.S.-Philippines ties.  The Council has requested meetings with a variety of stakeholders in the Philippine Government, including the Food & Drug Administration, the Intellectual Property Office, and the National Action Plan Against COVID-19 lead officials Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Secretary Vince Dizon, and Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje.  The early bird registration deadline is May 3.  To register, please go to
Artificial Intelligence Policy Retreat, May 3-7
After hosting the inaugural Policy Retreat on Digital Services Taxes last year, the Council will host its second Policy Retreat on Artificial Intelligence from May 3-7.  This multi-day retreat will convene interested members with subject matter experts, thought leaders, and government stakeholders to discuss and formulate a comprehensive Council strategy towards AI development and regulation in ASEAN. Given the cross-cutting nature of this issue, a policy retreat will allow the Council and its membership to move more effectively on this issue and amplify the impacts of our future engagements with ASEAN governments.  Please contact Ryan DelGaudio ( for more information.
Executive Roundtable Dialogue 2: Restoring Confidence in the Consumer Economy, April 23
The COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force will be hosting the second Executive Dialogue Session on April 23, focused on the theme: Restoring Confidence in the Consumer Economy.  Although its economic challenges are evident, the pandemic has disproportionately devastated two key segments of the economy: Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) and the Travel, Tourism, & Hospitality industries.  During this roundtable session, the Council will be proposing two initiatives: (i) reskilling and upskilling mSMEs through the ASEAN SME Program and Online Academy and (ii) developing a framework to revive ASEAN’s Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Industry.  The roundtable session will also include recommendations put forth by the U.S. private sector that will accelerate recovery efforts in the region.  The session will be attended by Malaysia’s Minister Mustapa, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy), Indonesia’s Minister Sandiaga Uno, Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy and Singapore’s Minister Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Co-Chair of the Emerging Stronger Task Force.

In The Press
Marc Mealy Presents at Pacific Forum International’s Virtual Forum Series Topic on COVID-19’s Impact on Regional Trade and Security
On April 19, Pacific Forum International held the third session of its Virtual Forum Series: Adapting to COVID-19: Indonesia, the United States and Indo-Pacific.  The Council’s Senior Vice President Marc Mealy joined the discussion on COVID-19’s Impact on Regional Trade and Security.
Alexander Feldman Moderates the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines’ Virtual Economic Briefing on “Strengthening Ties through Sustainable Recovery”
On April 14, the Council’s Chairman, the Council partnered with the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C to celebrate 75 years of U.S.-Philippines bilateral ties.  The Council’s Chairman, President & CEO Alex Feldman moderated the government panel with Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, USAID Acting Administrator Gloria Steele, and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s COO David Marchick.  The leadership of the Council’s Philippines Committee participated in the private sector panel, which included Mr. Philip Vaughn of Fluor, Ms. Aileen Judan-Jiao of IBM, and Mr. Antonio del Rosario of Coca-Cola.
Alexander Feldman Joins the Asia Vision Institute (AVI)’s Webinar on “US-Southeast Asian Relations Under Joe Biden”
On April 1, the AVI in collaboration with the Asia Foundation hosted a webinar discussing U.S.-Southeast Asia relations under Biden Administration, as well as challenges facing the region in security, economy, trade, climate change and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Feldman was joined by John J. Brandon, Senior Director of the Asia Foundations’ International Relations Programs and Dr. Leng Thearith, Director of Mekong Center for Strategic Studies.
Marc Mealy Speaks at the Philadelphia World Trade Center’s 17th Annual Global Business Conference
The Council’s Senior Vice President for Policy Marc Mealy participated in a discussion on “Markets in Transition - MENA, ASEAN and China: Open for Business” during the 17th Annual Global Business Conference on March 25.  Mealy was joined by Craig Allen, President of US-China Business Council, and David Hamod, President and CEO of National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce.
Marc Mealy Participates the Carnegie Endowment’s US-Japan Alliance for Trade and Technology Policy Coordination program 
The Council’s Senior Vice President for Policy Marc Mealy attended the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s panel on trade and technology policy along with Susan C. Schwab, Strategic Advisor of Mayer Brown’s International Trade practice, Heizo Takenaka, former Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy in Koizumi Cabinet, and Fran Stewart, Senior Research Fellow at the Ohio Manufacturing Institute.  During the event on March 24, they discussed the pros and cons of recent and future trade and tech policy trends and possible options for U.S.-Japan policy coordination.
COVID-19 Update
After 340 days without an instance of local viral transmission, Brunei now has 10 active cases of COVID-19, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 219.  Royal Brunei Airlines has suspended most of its routes until October 30, 2021, but will continue limited service to Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Melbourne and Singapore.  Negative COVID tests are required for entry into Brunei, and foreigners are only allowed to visit if their travel is deemed essential.  On the vaccine front, Brunei has so far approved three vaccines for use: Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Pfizer-BioNTech.  Phase one of the vaccine rollout began on April 3, when frontline workers, seniors (aged 60 and over) and foreign students began receiving their first injections.  His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah was the first Bruneian to receive a dose of the vaccine on April 1.   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 has seen a drastic spike in cases since the community outbreak incident in February, with approximately 7,013 confirmed cases and 47 COVID-19 related deaths in total.  There are currently over 4,000 active cases, and the Royal Cambodian Government implemented several lockdown measures in response.  A 14-day restriction on all travel between provinces was implemented effective April 7 and has been extended until April 28.  All tourist sites were also closed during this period.  Designated provinces have been subjected to individual lockdown measures and 2-week curfews, including the Banteay Meanchey province, the Tboung Khmum province, and the Siem Reap province.  In Phnom Penh, a daily curfew from 8:00 PM to 5:00 AM was mandated on April 1 and will be in effect through April 28.  In addition, Prime Minister Hun Sen has implemented a strict, two-week lockdown effective April 15 until April 28 that covers Phnom Penh and the Kandal province border town of Ta Khamau.  As per a revised order on April 18, aside from essential travel, all individuals are mandated to remain at home and subject to strict penalties for violations.  Furthermore, all travel, include travel for work purposes, will require an official permit from the Executive Committee to Manage and Lead the implementation of the Lockdown.  Any violators of curfews, movement restrictions, or public health measures such as mask wearing are subjected to penalties and fines under the recently promulgated COVID-19 laws in Cambodia.  On the vaccine front, China has donated an additional 400,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses to Cambodia.  The Ministry of Health announced that over one million people have received at least one of the two vaccine doses, which represents 6.5 percent of Cambodia’s total population.
With over 1.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 21, Indonesia continues to be the hardest-hit country in ASEAN by the coronavirus pandemic.  The nation registered an increase of roughly 130,000 new infections in the month-long interval between mid-March and mid-April 2021 – slightly fewer than the number of new cases that were tallied between mid-February and mid-March this year.  The daily reported average of new cases is 42 percent of what it was in January, when new infections were at their peak.  Meanwhile, after temporarily suspending its use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns of blood clotting, the food and drug agency (BPOM) reauthorized the immunization for use on March 19.  However, during a hearing with the House of Representatives on April 8, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin informed lawmakers that shipments of AstraZeneca doses to Indonesia were likely to be delayed, given that India – one of the chief manufacturers of the British-made immunization – had imposed export restrictions on AstraZeneca vaccines, in order to divert them to combat its domestic surge in coronavirus infections.  Consequently, Indonesia is now only likely to receive 20 million doses of the immunization this year, rather than the 50 million to which Indonesia and AstraZeneca had previously agreed upon.  The remaining 30 million doses are now slated to be delivered by the second quarter of 2022.  A further 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that were set to arrive via the COVAX-GAVI distribution facility have similarly been delayed, causing Indonesia to begin slowing down its nationwide vaccine rollout.  To address this immunization shortfall, the Government has reportedly begun negotiating new procurements of up to 100 million doses of Chinese-made vaccines.  Indonesia has already been relying primarily on China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine for its nationwide immunization campaign, and as of April 21, had administered roughly 16.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines – enough to fully vaccinate approximately 3.1% of its population.  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.

The total caseload in Laos since the start of the pandemic remains at 58, with only 9 active cases and 0 deaths.  On April 12, the Lao government updated existing regulations on containing the spread of COVID-19, including the continued suspension of all entertainment venues and large gatherings as well as restrictions on all unnecessary travels.  During the Lao New Year, the government increased border controls and more strictly enforced public health measures such as mask wearing.  The updated restrictions will remain in effect until April 30, 2021.  The national rollout of vaccines procured through the COVAX institute began in April, and more than 100,000 people have already received the first dose.  Laos is planning to receive an initial allocation of 480,000 doses through the COVAX facility, and the government targets to inoculate 22 percent of the population by the end of 2021.  Visas continue to be suspended for all foreign nationals, with certain exceptions, and  all foreign citizens entering Laos are required to purchase COVID-19 insurance prior to entry.  
Malaysia’s Ministry of Health is warning people about a possible fourth wave.  The concerns are being elevated because of religious activities taking place during Ramadan.  1,889 cases were reported on the second day of Ramadan, a significant uptick from last month’s average of about 1000 per day. To combat this, Malaysia extended movement control orders (MCOs) on April 12 and encouraged people to respect guidelines while celebrating Ramadan.  Foreigners living in Malaysia will be allowed to appeal for visa extensions, and the government will review appeals on a “case-by-case basis.”  So far, more than 350,000 people have been infected, and 1,300 people have lost their life.  On the vaccination front, the country has secured doses to inocculate 80 percent of the population by October, and Malaysia will enter phase two of its COVID-19 vaccination plan on April 19.  Johor will open a vaccination app for Malaysians who commute to Singapore.  Also, to mitigate fears some people have about reactions to the vaccine, the government set up a 10 million Malaysian Ringgit (USD $2.4 million) vaccination compensation fund for those who have severe reactions to the shot.
Due to the ongoing political turmoil, Myanmar has been struggling to control COVID-19, and the Government has not been fully transparent with its testing and vaccination processes.  The number of daily testing rates and confirmed new case counts continue to plummet, from as many as 25,000 a day before the coup to 2,000 at most in the past weeks.  With the ongoing Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), the public health system is paralyzed, as is the public’s awareness of the pandemic. However, COVID-19 vaccination processes are slowly being carried out by the military government and some private programs.  According to state-owned news media, more than 1 million people have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and about 4,000 have been scheduled for their second dose.  Locally, martial law in select townships and curfew hours remain the same as reported in previous updates.  Some embassies, given the escalating security risk on the ground, have started to authorize departures for their citizens.  The U.S. Embassy on March 30, announced the ordered departure (OD) of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members.

The Philippines is reporting 9,918 new infections on average each day, which brings the total number of cases in the country to 962,307.  To date, more than one million Filipinos have been vaccinated, 900,000 of whom are healthcare workers.  The government aims to inoculate at least 70 million Filipinos by the end of 2021 to achieve herd immunity.  So far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V Gamaleya, and Sinovac's CoronaVac for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of their vaccinations.  Chinese-based Sinopharm has also applied for EUA to the FDA on March 1.  On March 18, Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said that the government is in talks with U.S.-based Johnson & Johnson to ink a vaccine supply agreement by the end of March.  Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. had earlier asserted in January that the Philippines is aiming to secure at least 148 million doses of vaccine in 2021.  The 148 million-figure was based on negotiations with 7 vaccine companies that the government was in advanced talks with, including Novavax, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceutical), Sinovac, and Gamaleya. 

Singapore’s 7-day average daily COVID cases remains between 15 and 20 cases per day, the vast majority of which are imported cases.  On March 31, Singapore extended Phase Three reopening conditions for religious activities, which include sanitation and distancing requirements.  The reopening comes just before Ramadan, taking place from April 13 through May 12, and Muslim Singaporeans are encouraged to utilize online methods to celebrate with their families.  Starting April 5, Singapore is allowing 75 percent of staff to work in office spaces, which is an increase from 50 percent and is part of a “hybrid way of working.”  Also, live events will be permitted to host up to 750 attendees starting April 24.  Singapore has so far administered 1.6 million vaccination doses, which is significant progress for the country of 5.7 million. 
Thailand has upwards of 14,000 active cases, with record rises of over 6,000 cases witnessed during the start of the Songkran new year festivals.  The country is currently undergoing a third wave of infections, which include the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant of the virus.  Most of the cases in the current outbreak have been traced to entertainment venues from Bangkok, which has spread to at least 62 of Thailand’s 77 provinces so far.  Temporary suspensions of at-risk businesses, such as pubs, bars, karaokes, and other entertainment venues, are effective until April 23 in Bangkok and 40 other provinces.   All shopping malls close at 9:00 PM until further notice.  There are also movement control orders in place for 43 provinces, with different jurisdictions mandating specific quarantine requirements.  Effective from April 1, quarantine periods were reduced from 14 days to 10 days.  However, travelers from countries exposed to COVID-19 variant strains will still be required to observe the full 14-day quarantine period.  The Ministry of Public Health will update and publish the list of countries requiring 14-day quarantines every 15 days.  On the vaccine front, Thailand administered almost 500,000 doses as of April 10, which represents less than 1 percent of the population.  The Royal Thai Government’s mass vaccination program is slated to begin in June using AstraZeneca vaccines.
Vietnam’s total national case count as of April 21 is 2,800.  There were no deaths confirmed, but there are 234 active cases who are receiving treatment.  The recent cases were all imported.  Around 8,000 COVID-19 frontline workers will be vaccinated from March 22 to April 19.  In March and April, Vietnam received 5.6 million more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  Vietnam expects to get 150 million doses this year for the entire population and is currently in talks to obtain Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the United States.  In March 23, the Ministry of Health approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use, which is the second approved vaccine in Vietnam after AstraZeneca.  Vietnam’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, called Nanocovax, is expected to be available by Q4 2021 and put into use in 2022.  As of March 28, more than 44,000 people across 19 cities and provinces have been vaccinated.   At a government meeting on March 17, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged relevant ministries and agencies to consider gradual resumption of international flights and remain prepared for the employment of “vaccination passports”.  Based on the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control meeting on March 19, it was reported that the IT infrastructure necessary to utilize COVID-19 passports systematically will be ready by April.  The IT infrastructure should verify data, including nationality, type of vaccine, and entry permit conditions of foreigners by source country entering Vietnam.
Country, Industry and Advocacy Updates
Key Developments 

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat steps aside as 4G leader of PAP
On April 8, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced his decision to step aside as 4G leader of the People's Action Party (PAP) so that "a younger leader who will have a longer runway can take over."  In his letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, DPM Heng expressed his gratitude to him and Cabinet colleagues who were "unstinting" in their support when he had a stroke in 2016.  He will relinquish his portfolio as Finance Minister but will stay on as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, as well as chairman of the National Research Foundation under the Prime Minister's Office.  In turn, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked DPM Heng for his fruitful years in the Ministry of Education leading to the creation of two new universities and the national SkillsFuture program.  Their exchange of letters may be accessed here.
Cambodia Issues New Sub-decree on VAT for e-Commerce
On April 8, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree that outlines a value-added tax (VAT) for all e-commerce activities in Cambodia.  The sub-decree extends the scope of existing VAT regulations by detailing specific mechanisms for administering VAT on all digital goods and services, and the sub-decree especially seeks to target non-resident taxpayers without a permanent office in Cambodia to ensure efficient tax collection.  As such, the new sub-decree applies to any non-resident suppliers providing digital goods and services electronically from abroad.  Further, the sub-decree states that tax-registration for non-resident taxpayers will be decided according to the classification of taxpayers under the self-declared regime set out by the Ministry of Economy and Finance; this registration is for VAT purposes only.  Non-resident taxpayers providing digital goods or services, including e-commerce, to customers in Cambodia are mandated to file tax returns and pay VAT to the excise department by the 20th of the following month.  Non-resident taxpayers who receive digital goods or services from another non-resident taxpayer are required to collect taxes through the Reverse Charge and tax returns and pay VAT to the excise department accordingly.  Both resident and non-resident taxpayers who fail to follow these regulations will be punished accordingly by the taxation law.
ASEAN on Mutual Digital Vaccine Certificate Recognition, Singapore to Accept COVID-19 Digital Travel Pass Starting May
In March, the ASEAN Economic Ministers discussed the possibility of launching a regional digital vaccine passport to revive the intra-ASEAN travel bubble.  Malaysia and Singapore reciprocated this initiative through a joint statement on mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates to restore travel and tourism between the two countries.  However, the details of the bilateral program have yet to be ironed out.  The possibility of successfully initiating a regional digital vaccine passport would likely also require strengthening agreements, and in some case capabilities, to develop a region-wide comprehensive data privacy regulatory framework.  Meanwhile, in April, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Singapore's International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that passengers traveling to Singapore would be able to use the IATA travel pass app to share their pre-departure COVID-19 test results with airlines starting in May.
Vietnam Convenes Final 14th National Assembly Session, Ease of Doing Business Ranking
From March 24 to April 8, the 14th National Assembly (NA) convened its 11th and final session to decide the 25 state leadership positions, including the State President, the Prime Minister, the NA’s Chairperson, and cabinet positions for the 2021-2026 tenure.  This assembly will also review the performance of the 14th NA, which includes discussions on the performance of State President, Government, NA Standing Committee and NA agencies, Supreme People’s Court, and Supreme People’s Procuracy and the State Audit Office of Vietnam during their 2016-2021 tenure.  The achievements of the current Vietnamese Government should be highlighted as Vietnam has jumped to the 70th position among the total 190 nations ranked in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report.  This progress is attributed to strong policies and institutions that are maintained by the current Government.  The key points from the assessment report on administrative procedure compliance cost index (APCI) include technology implementations and applications of information technology, which are the main priorities for the Vietnamese Government, according to the Minister and Chairman of the Government Office Mai Tien Dung.  These priorities are welcomed by the business community since they are also preparing for the Industry 4.0 technology evolution.
BNM’s Liberalization of Foreign Exchange Policy
As the Government of Malaysia looks to recover from the negative economic effects of the pandemic, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) has announced further liberalization of its foreign exchange policy (FEP).  The liberalization intends to enable private sector enterprises to invest more easily in Malaysia to enhance the country’s position in global supply chains.  The gradual liberalization process over the years has been consistent with Malaysia’s strong monetary position in comparison to the region and its more resilient financial ecosystem.  Export-oriented industries will have more flexibility and can better assist with post-pandemic recovery.  Important policy updates are as followed: 1) Removal of export conversion rule; 2) Resident exporters can settle domestic trade in foreign currency with other residents involved in the global supply chain; 3) Resident exporters can extend the period for repatriation of export proceeds beyond six months under exceptional circumstances; 4) Resident exporters can net-off export proceeds against permitted foreign currency obligations.  With this flexibility, exporters no longer need to seek approval from BNM for netting arrangements involving export proceeds.  This would enhance business efficiency and cash flow management for exporters; 5) Resident corporates can undertake commodity derivatives hedging directly with non-resident counterparties.  The full Bank Negara announcement may be found (here).
USTR Announces Suspension of Trade Engagement with Myanmar
On March 29, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced the suspension of all engagements under the US-Myanmar Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which was signed in 2013.  This action was taken in line with other U.S. government agencies, as a result of the military coup and the subsequent violent crackdown on civilians, and with the intention of not conferring any official recognition or legitimacy to the military-backed State Administration Council (SAC).  What it means is that the USTR will not engage with the SAC ministries and representatives on any bilateral trade issues and that dialogue will only resume after the democratically elected Government of Myanmar has been restored.  To read the official announcement, please click here.  For U.S. businesses operating in Myanmar, this announcement does not bear any legal or regulatory impact on their current and future investments in the country.  The only impact is the loss of an important venue to raise business concerns at the government-to-government level.  This is not a suspension or a review of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade privileges towards Myanmar, which has allowed for duty-free imports of certain goods to the U.S.  As of December 31, 2020, the GSP program (in its entirety and not limited to Myanmar) had expired and is currently awaiting Congressional authorization for renewal.
Vietnam's Trade Partnerships with the UK, U.S. and ASEAN
The Vietnamese Government has approved for the UK-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (UKVFTA) to fully enter into force on May 1, 2021.  Vietnam has continued to express its support of the UK joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and views the UKVFTA as an important supporting factor.  Additionally, the UK and Vietnam agreed to meet regarding a Vietnam-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) in August later this year.  With bilateral trade between the two countries in the first two months of 2021 amounting to US$1.024 billion (a 20 percent increase from last year), the bilateral trade relationship will likely continue to grow.  Vietnam has also voiced its interest in a stronger Vietnam-U.S. partnership.  Deputy Foreign Minister of Vietnam Bui Thanh Son (who became the Foreign Minister on April 8) held a phone call on March 22 with Kurt Campbell, the U.S. Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs on the National Security Council.  Mr. Campbell expressed that the U.S. is open to strengthening its comprehensive partnership with Vietnam.
Thailand looks to Promote Green Manufacturing
By 2025, the Government of Thailand aims to improve levels of environmental sustainability in the domestic manufacturing sector.  Minister of Industry Suriya Juangroongruangkit has pushed many manufacturers in Thailand to comply with the Green Industry standards developed by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).   Currently, there are 20,000 factories in Thailand that have Green Industry certificates, and the Government aims to increase the number to 71,130 by 2025.  The 2025 deadline is part of a larger plan to promote and develop green enterprises from 2021 to 2037.  The Government of Thailand started green initiatives for industrial enterprises in Thailand in 2011.  The initial project was called the Green Industry Thailand project, which sought to push domestic industries to be more environmentally friendly.  The Government aimed to create eco industrial parks, which would include environmental corporate social responsibility agreements.  The project ran from 2012 to 2016.
Indonesia Announces E-Commerce Regulation
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that the Government will implement a regulation to curb predatory pricing practices on e-commerce platforms in the coming months.  Though no country was named directly, it was suggested that this regulation is likely targeted at Chinese producers with products on e-commerce sites.  There have been concerns that Chinese manufacturers have recently been replicating products produced by Indonesian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and offering them at a significantly reduced price.  Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi said the regulation will require e-commerce platforms to declare if they engage in cross-border trade, “the regulation seeks to create a level playing field in the domestic market... If the offline traders must have distribution permits, online merchants will need to do the same thing.”  The regulation is intended to protect Indonesian SME producers in a booming e-commerce sector in Indonesia.  Redseer, a management consulting firm, outlined in a report on Indonesian e-commerce that gross merchandise value (GMV) grew over 65 percent last year to US$37 billion.  This spike was due to the increase of new online users as movement restrictions limited consumers from going to brick and mortar stores.  According to the e-Conomy SEA 2020 Report, internet sector investments increased from US$1.4 billion in the first half of 2019 to US$2.8 billion in the first half of 2020.  Increasing investments make stakeholders confident Indonesia’s e-commerce can experience steady medium-run growth.
Vietnam Adopts New National Strategy to Enhance Gender Equality
In an effort to accelerate gender equality in Vietnam, Hanoi recently adopted the National Strategy on Gender Equality 2021-2030 (“The Strategy”).  The Strategy contains a series of ambitious goals to increase women’s representation in business, politics, and other societal realms over the next decade, and forms a key part of Vietnam’s plan to meet its gender-related commitments under the United Nations (UN) 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Several of the Strategy’s main goals include increasing the number of women holding key leadership positions in 60 percent of Vietnam’s state management agencies and local administrations by 2025, and 75 percent by 2030; decreasing the maternal mortality rate to 42 per 100,000 live births by 2025, and to anywhere below this figure by 2030; and increasing the percentage of “paid women employees” to 50 percent of the total female workforce by 2025, and to 60 percent by 2030.  In addition to the goals outlined in this strategy, localities in Vietnam have also been encouraged to adopt their own initiatives to tackle gender inequality.  For example, Ho Chi Minh City was recently pressed by community leaders to take more “creative and effective” actions to protect and support women, which includes establishing an emergency hotline for victims of domestic violence.
Philippines Adopts Cryptocurrency Framework
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the Philippine central bank, has recognized the need for an inclusive and comprehensive landscape for digital currencies and has implemented recent regulations to support the growth of the crypto industry.  Under Republic Act No. 11211, an amendment to the New Central Bank Act effective from 2019, certain crypto asset businesses are now under the purview of the BSP as part of its supervision of financial institutions.  The BSP’s Monetary Board also approved more thorough guidelines for virtual asset service providers (VASP) and entities that provide financial services through virtual assets (VA).  These guidelines (BSP Circular 1108) updated the existing regulation on virtual currency exchanges (VCE) that was previously introduced in 2017 (to read the official statements regarding the BSP Circular 1108 and the subsequent memorandum to this regulation, please click here and here).  The updated regulatory framework expands the scope of activities subject to central bank jurisdiction and licensing, to now include businesses involved in the “exchange between one or more forms of virtual assets, transfer of virtual assets, and safeguarding and/or administration of virtual assets or instruments enabling control over virtual assets.”  Such VA transactions must now be in line with regulatory requirements for money service businesses (MSB), including rules surrounding outsourcing, liquidity risk management, operational risk management, IT risk management, and financial consumer protection.

Current Advocacy

Indonesia KOMINFO Ministerial Draft Regulations (Law No. 11 of 2020/Omnibus Law Implementing Regulations)
Following the issuance of Government Regulation No. 46/2021 on Post, Telecommunication and Broadcasting Sectors and Government Regulation No. 5 of 2021 concerning Implementation of Risk-Based Business Licensing as part of Indonesia's Omnibus Law Implementing Regulations promulgated last February, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (KOMINFO) recently released 5 draft Ministerial Regulations, namely:
  1. Draft Ministerial Regulation on Postal Operation
  2. Draft Ministerial Regulation on Telecommunication Operation
  3. Draft Ministerial Regulation on Broadcasting Operation
  4. Draft Ministerial Regulation on the Use of Radio Frequency Spectrum
  5. Draft the Use of Radio Frequency Spectrum on Determination of Standards for Business Activities and Products in the Implementation of Risk-Based Business Licensing for Post, Telecommunications, Systems and Electronic Transactions Sectors
The Council has compiled and submitted members’ inputs and will keep monitoring the development of these drafts until the official promulgation.  As of early April, KOMINFO is still going through all of the submitted inputs.  For more information, please contact Angga Antagia ( and Rahma Alifa (
Indonesia ICT Advocacy Brief
Please find below additional ICT advocacy issues in Indonesia that the Council is tracking:
  • Applied Tariff Rates/HS Code Issues for ICT Products: The Council is currently drafting two letters of inputs submission to be transmitted to Fiscal Policy Agency/BKF (for tariff issues) and Directorate General of Customs (for HS code classification).
  • KOMINFO Regulation No. 5/2020 on the Private Electronic System Operators: KOMINFO is now preparing the SOP/technical guidance.  The Council is currently still monitoring the development of the regulation’s implementation.  Furthermore, the registration requirement under the regulation is possibly delayed as the OSS website is still being revised and finalized.
  • BSSN Regulation 8/2020 on Security System in Electronic Systems Operations: The Council is still waiting for a response from BSSN to schedule a meeting.
  • Personal Data Protection Bill Development: The Bill’s deliberation has not been completed as the current session will be ended in April.  The Bill, however, is included in this year’s National Legislative Program.  Furthermore, there is a possibility that the Bill will be handed back to the Legislative Body/Baleg.
For more information or feedback please contact Angga Antagia ( and Rahma Alifa (
Philippines Internet Transactions Act
Internet Transactions Act (Senate Bill no. 1591) is pending with the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Ways and Means and is targeted to pass in June.  The Council staff recently joined a Roundtable discussion of the Joint Foreign Chambers via the Canadian Chamber, which focused on consumer protection.  The Philippine Department of Trade and Industry is also updating their eCommerce PH 2022 roadmap: strategic framework, which focuses on security, speed and structure with the objective of achieving sales and mentions an online dispute resolution mechanism.  For more information or feedback please contact the Philippines team.
Philippines ICT Advocacy Brief
Please find below additional ICT advocacy issues in the Philippines that the Council is tracking:
  • Digital Services Tax (House Bill no. 7425): The Bill, which seeks to implement an extraterritorial VAT collection regime, is pending a second reading under interpellation at the House.  There is no counterpart bill filed at the Senate.
  • Retail Trade Act (RTA): The RTA is still under discussion.  There is a possibility that the provisions on online transactions will be folded into the Internet Transactions Act (ITA).
  • E-Commerce Act Amendments: The Amendments are being aligned with the ITA.
  • Open Access in Data Transmission Bill (House Bill no. 8910, Senate Bills no. 454 and 911): The Council is supporting a letter to Senate President Sotto and Speaker Velasco by JFC and other business groups.  A letter to the House is on hold until plenary deliberations are over.
  • Expanding the Provision of Internet Services Through Inclusive Access to Satellite Services (Executive Order 127): President Duterte has signed EO 127 as of March 3, 2021.  EO 127 provides greater market access to satellite Internet by allowing non-enfranchised Internet services providers (ISPs) and value-added service providers (VASPs) direct access to satellites, without going through a telco.
For more information or feedback please contact the Philippines team.
UN Committee of Experts in Tax Matters Submission
The Council organized a draft submission to the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (UN CoE) on its proposal to amend Article 12 of the United Nations Model Double Tax Convention Between Developed and Developing Countries to revise the definition of “royalties” to include payments for the use of, or the right to use, computer software.  Please contact Marc Mealy ( and Ryan DelGaudio ( with any questions or for more information.
Vietnam Personal Data Protection Decree
The Vietnam Ministry of Public Security (MPS) is receiving inputs on the recently published Draft Decree on Personal Data Protection. The Council has compiled and submitted members’ inputs to MPS ahead of a consultation workshop organized by MPS on April 16.  The Council will also plan to organize roundtables in late April and early May with the Ministry of Justice and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) on the Draft Decree.  If you have any questions, or to indicate interest in sponsoring the Council’s advocacy program around this Draft Decree, please contact Vu Tu Thanh (
Vietnam E-commerce and Digital-based Tax
The Council recently held a briefing call to discuss developments around the draft circular on E-commerce and Digital-based Tax by the General Department of Taxation, Ministry of Finance.  The Council staff had also joined two workshops organized by the drafting team at the GDT, MOF and by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI).  If you have any questions, or to indicate interest in sponsoring the Council’s advocacy program around this draft circular, please contact Vu Tu Thanh (
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