President's Newsletter - August 2021

Alexander C. Feldman
Alexander C. Feldman
President & CEO
US-ASEAN Business Council
 
August 2021 

Dear Members,
 

It is a great pleasure to join the US-ASEAN Business Council as the new President & CEO.  I am deeply grateful for the generous messages and warm welcome I have received from colleagues, members, and friends from both Southeast Asia and the United States. 
 
I have long admired the Council’s work.  From my vantage point as a former diplomat and as a US-ABC member, the Council has been very successful in meeting the needs of its members and in deepening commercial ties between the United States and arguably the world’s most dynamic region.  As ambassador and as a Google Vice President, I had the happy privilege to get to know many Council members as well as US-ABC's excellent staff and to travel as a part of Council missions.  So, it is with humility and a great sense of hope that I take on this responsibility.
 
August has proved to be an exciting month for U.S.-ASEAN relations.  The Biden-Harris administration continues to build upon its commitment to engage strongly with Southeast Asia, accentuated by Vice President Kamala Harris’s historic visit to Singapore and Vietnam.  While in Singapore, Vice President Harris met with key government officials, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, and held a roundtable with U.S. industry on supply chain resiliency.  She also announced new initiatives and memoranda of understanding to strengthen the U.S.-Singapore Strategic Partnership in several priority issues, including climate, public health and the digital economy.  During her speech at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Vice President Harris emphasized how interconnected the U.S. and ASEAN economies are with one another by noting some key statistics from our flagship publication, ASEAN Matters for America / America Matters for ASEAN: ASEAN is the fourth largest destination for U.S. exports, and our trade relationships support more than 600,000 American jobs (the transcript of Vice President Harris’s speech is accessible here).  We were pleased to hear the Vice President announce the United States’ offer to host APEC in 2023 and look forward to her engagements in Vietnam this week.
 
Vice President Harris’s trip came on the heels of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. While in the region, Secretary Austin underscored the importance that the current administration places on the Indo-Pacific as a “priority theater” for integrated defense, especially during his Fullerton Lecture in Singapore on July 27 (the transcript of Secretary Austin’s Fullerton Lecture is accessible here).  The Secretary also reaffirmed current U.S.-Singapore defense relations, emphasized the importance of U.S.-Singapore bilateral training relationships, and sought cooperation on cyber defense and strategic communications during his meeting with Singapore Minister for Defense Dr. Ng Eng Hen.  Shortly after the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative formally closed its Section 301 Investigation of Vietnam’s currency practices, Secretary Austin met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and National Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant General Phan Van Giang to discuss Vietnam’s COVID-19 situation and the Vietnam War-era personnel accounting program. Secretary Austin concluded his visit to ASEAN in the Philippines on July 29 and 30 by securing a key success:  Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met with Secretary Austin and recommitted the Philippines to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), an integral component of the U.S.-Philippines Alliance.
 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent every day of the first week of August with ASEAN Ministers, virtually attending the Mekong-U.S. Partnership Ministers’ Meeting on August 2, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on August 3, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on August 4, the Friends of the Mekong Ministers’ Meeting on August 5, and the ASEAN Regional Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on August 6.  During his engagements, Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of democracy, transparency and accountability in the Indo-Pacific as well as the central role that micro, small and medium-sized enterprises will play in ASEAN’s economic recovery.  He also noted the tangible contributions the United States has made to the region during the COVID-19 pandemic, including donating and shipping more than 23 million vaccines doses to ASEAN and pledging $500,000 to the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund.  Shortly after Secretary Blinken’s engagements, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield visited Thailand and announced that the United States will provide more than $50 million in critical humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar and $5 million in aid to help Thailand fight COVID-19.
 
Five days after Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet resigned on August 15, Malaysia’s King named former Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the ninth Prime Minister of Malaysia (the Council’s full update on this development is accessible here).  He was sworn into office on August 21 and is now Malaysia’s third Prime Minister in three years.  Prime Minister Ismail has held several positions in United Malays National Organization (UMNO)-led coalition governments.  Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin named him Deputy Prime Minister in July of this year after originally appointing him to be Senior Minister of Defense.  He previously served as Minister for Domestic Trade in 2015.  The new prime minister will face many challenges as he assumes office, including the current COVID-19 crisis, threats of an economic downturn, and political infighting.  The Council will continue to track Malaysia’s political transition and keep members up to date in advance of the next parliamentary session in September.
 
The Council continues to mobilize the American business community to support ASEAN’s pandemic response and economic recovery efforts.  On August 5, the Council’s former President & CEO Alexander Feldman moderated an in-person conversation with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Senior Vice President for Asia Charles Freeman to discuss how the Global Task Force on Pandemic Response could further support Indonesia in its time of need.  Various C-Suite executives attended the meeting, including Global CEO of Deloitte Punit Renjen, Chairman and CEO of Freeport McMoRan Richard Adkerson, President and COO of FedEx Raj Subramaniam, Chairman and CEO of Bank of America Brian Moynihan, President of Boeing International Sir Michael Arthur, CEO of Citigroup Asia Pacific Peter Babej, and CEO of the Gates Foundation Mark Suzman, all pledging their commitment to providing the people of Indonesia with the resources necessary to fight the public health crisis induced by the Delta variant.  Since then, the Global Task Force has developed three key initiatives for Indonesia focused on delivering diagnostics and testing equipment, oxygen supplies and home health kits to “expand the ward” and reduce the current strain on the Indonesian hospital system.  In Vietnam, the Global Task Force in conjunction with USAID has identified specific areas in which U.S. companies can provide immediate assistance.   Members interested in these efforts can contact our Senior Vice President & Regional Managing Director Amb. Michael Michalak at mmichalak@usasean.org, our Chief Country Representative in Jakarta Dr. Landry Subianto at lsubianto@usasean.org, or our Deputy Regional Managing Director & Chief Representative in Hanoi Vu Tu Thanh at tvu@usasean.org.
 
Through our COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force, the Council held fruitful dialogues with Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Energy Supattanapong Punmeechaow on August 2 and with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul on August 16.  During these meetings, Task Force members provided recommendations that could help address priority needs at present, including boosting vaccination rates, ensuring adequate vaccine and medical equipment supplies, and facilitating the safe resumption of business operations.  DPM Supattanapong and DPM Anutin also shared the Royal Thai Government’s priorities and reopening strategies in their respective sessions.
 
August 1 marked six months since the Tatmadaw overthrew the democratically elected civilian government of Myanmar and took control of the country.  Amidst the political unrest and worsening public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide, southeastern parts of Myanmar faced severe flooding, affecting as many as 3,000 residents.  Earlier this month, the State Administrative Council announced the formation of a caretaker government with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as its self-appointed Prime Minister and Vice Senior General Soe Win as Deputy Prime Minister (please visit this link to view the organizational structure of the caretaker government, changes in cabinet ministries and the reorganization of state and regional governments).  On the regional front, the ASEAN leaders have appointed Mr. Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister, to serve as the organization’s special envoy to Myanmar.  In his first press conference as special envoy, Mr. Erywan made clear that he plans to prioritize sending Myanmar humanitarian assistance and medical equipment to respond to food shortages and surging COVID-19 cases throughout the country.  The special envoy has begun consulting with regional partners to provide a clear timeline on implementing the five-point consensus. Mr. Erywan has also stated his plans to meet with jailed politicians and minority leaders in Myanmar but has not yet set a date to visit the country.
 
The Council was proud to host productive dialogues between senior officials in the Singaporean Government and American business leaders during its 2021 Virtual Singapore Business Mission from July 26 through August 6.  This year’s delegation of 31 U.S. firms was co-led by our former President & CEO Alexander Feldman, our Senior Vice President & Regional Managing Director Amb. Michael Michalak, and our Singapore Committee Chair Oracle represented by Managing Director for Singapore Chua Horng Shya.  The Council’s delegation met with key members of the Singaporean Cabinet, including Finance Minister Lawrence Wong; Education Minister Chan Chun Sing; Foreign Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan; Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong; Health Minister Ong Ye Kung; Communications & Information Minister Josephine Teo, who is also Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity; Sustainability and Environment Minister Grace Fu Hai Yien; and Senior Minister of State for MCI, MOH, & GovTech Dr. Janil Puthucheary.  The delegation also initiated dialogues with the CEOs/Chairpersons of several statutory boards and agencies, including Workforce Singapore, SkillsFuture Singapore and Enterprise Singapore.  U.S. companies discussed priorities in the immediate term such as supporting Singapore’s COVID-19 response, accelerating digital transformation, and safely reopening travel and tourism as well as long-term strategic goals of supply chain resilience, workforce development and sustainability. As we celebrate 55 years of U.S.-Singapore diplomatic relations, the strong friendship and partnership between our countries continues to grow, especially as more and more American firms make Singapore their home base in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific. 
 
In conjunction with the 76th anniversary of Indonesia on August 17, the Indonesia Virtual Business Mission began on August 23 and will run through August 27.  In response to the recent healthcare crisis induced by the Delta variant of COVID-19, our delegation of 39 companies is focusing on “Enhancing support to the Government of Indonesia for the Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery.”  The mission began with a briefing by U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim on August 24 and a COVID-19 economic relief briefing by Dr. Chatib Basri, former Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Investment Coordinating Board.  Moreover, the Council is also compiling a “US-ABC Socioeconomic Initiative Report,” which aims to highlight the positive impact our members have made or are making for the people of Indonesia.  We are inviting all relevant members who would like to participate in this effort to provide their inputs on the socioeconomic report, regardless of their participation in the Mission.  Please contact Mega Valentina at mega@usasean.org or Steven Gunawan at sgunawan@usasean.org with any questions or for more information.
 
I believe strongly in the importance of the Council’s work and look forward to working closely with you and with partners across the region.  I will do my best to build upon the considerable successes of the past and to take this organization to the next level.  It will be a privilege and honor to serve with all of you.
 
With great respect,
 
Ted


 Upcoming Events

SME Webinar in Thailand: Supporting Thailand SMEs’ Digitalization Amid COVID-19 (August 31)
The US-ASEAN Business Council, in collaboration with the Office of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP) Thailand, will hold another SME Webinar Series in Response to COVID-19 on Tuesday, August 31 at 9:00 AM (GMT+7).  This webinar is supported by Council members and SME annual sponsors, Facebook and Visa.  Prominent speakers from our sponsoring members will share insights on how digitalization could help SMEs thrive during this challenging pandemic, and OSMEP Thailand will share updates on the Royal Thai Government’s plans for SMEs during the pandemic and beyond.  The webinar will be conducted in Thai and free of charge.  If you are interested, please register yourself by clicking here. For more information, please contact Nugraheni Utami (utami@usasean.com).
 
2021 ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Virtual Business Mission (September 13-24)
The Council is registering members for its 2021 ASEAN Economic Ministers’ (AEM) Virtual Business Mission.  The Mission will run from September 13-24 and will include a consultation session with the AEM and the Office of the United States Trade Representative, meetings with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council and ASEAN Secretary-General, as well as bilateral meetings with priority Economic Ministers.  The Mission will focus on ASEAN’s post-pandemic comprehensive recovery in support of Brunei Darussalam’s priorities as the Chair of ASEAN this year.  Conversations will also cover how to leverage the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 in a way that would enhance the ease of doing business in the region.  The bilateral meetings will provide opportunities for in-depth discussions on country-specific issues on trade, investment, supply chain, and digital economy ecosystem development.  Please contact Marcella Suwandhi (msuwandhi@usasean.org) and Nugraheni Utami (utami@usasean.org) for more information.
 
2021 Vietnam Business Mission (Postponed)
Due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in Vietnam, coupled with tighter measures from the Vietnamese government for businesses, the Council will postpone its annual Vietnam Business Mission until Q4 of this year.  The Council still plans to organize this mission under a hybrid format and will continue to track the situation on the ground while updating members with more mission details as they are available.  In the meantime, please contact Hai Pham (hpham@usasean.org) and Vu Tu Thanh (tvu@usasean.org) if you have any questions or to indicate your interest in joining the mission.
 
Proposed Dinner with Vietnam President Phuc in New York City (September 21 TBC)
On the sidelines of the 2021 United Nations General Assembly Meetings taking place next month, the US-ASEAN Business Council has proposed to host a Gala Dinner for H.E. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President of Vietnam, if he travels to New York to attend in person. Once confirmed, members will have the opportunity to participate in this dinner and any associated meetings with the President and his delegation. In his capacity as Prime Minister, President Phuc worked tirelessly to support American businesses in Vietnam and strengthen the overall U.S.-Vietnam relationship, which grew tremendously under his strong leadership. The Council looks forward to engaging President Phuc once again in his new role.  For more information, please contact Hai Pham (hpham@usasean.org) and Vu Tu Thanh (tvu@usasean.org).
 
2021 ASEAN-U.S. Digital Policy Consultative Forum (DPCF) on 5G and Digital Infrastructure (September 21 TBC)
The Council is organizing the second session of the 2021 ASEAN-U.S. Digital Policy Consultative Forum (DPCF) on 5G and Digital Infrastructure.  The session, tentatively scheduled for September 21, will include two panels to discuss the new and emerging uses of 5G; the development and rollout of 5G policy; use cases to support COVID-19 prevention and control; and approaches to increase digital connectivity and accessibility, especially in rural areas.  The program aims to attract a wide range of government participants, including from ICT and industry ministries, as well as participants from academia and other associations.  Ahead of the session, the Council is also organizing a third planning call, tentatively scheduled for September 8.  An invitation will be sent in due course.  If you have any feedback or would like to sponsor the event, please contact Minh Vu (mvu@usasean.org) and Heidi Mah (hmah@usasean.org).  The Council held its first DPCF session on Data Governance on June 14, which attracted more than 100 participants across government, industry, and academia.
 
2021 ASEAN Innovation Series – Session 1 (September 23)
The Council is organizing the 2021 ASEAN Innovation Series in Q3 and Virtual Visits to Innovation Centers/Labs in Q4.  The programs will be a collaboration between the Council’s Innovation Sub-Committee and the ASEAN Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI).  Launched in 2019, the ASEAN Innovation Series combined with the Virtual Visits aim to support the development of the innovation ecosystem in the ASEAN region and have been welcomed by the ASEAN COSTI at its 79th meeting, hosted by Thailand on June 16.  We plan to hold the first webinar in September on “Best practices from Singapore in developing Innovation Hub for the region” and the second webinar in November on “Leveraging Innovation to support COVID-19 Recovery”.  The Council is calling for sponsorship for these programs. For any questions or to indicate your interest in these programs, please contact Angga Antagia (aantagia@usasean.org).
 
Transformative Technology in Trade Workshop (September 27 – September 28)
The US-ASEAN Business Council is seeking to build a workshop to share best practices and assist ASEAN Customs officials and border agencies in leveraging transformative technology to accelerate efforts towards full, contactless, electronic customs in a post COVID-19 world.  This capacity-building program will focus on understanding the potential of technology not only in reducing physical contact but supporting more effective and accurate risk management.  The workshop aims to enhance the preparedness of ASEAN Customs in supporting supply chain continuity and access to essential goods and medical supplies, supporting the ASEAN region in its recovery goals and creating broad-based, sustainable and inclusive socio-economic growth. For any questions or to indicate interest, please contact Alberto Coria (acoria@usasean.org).
In The Press
Amb. Ted Osius Quoted by Bloomberg Politics on Vice President Harris’s Southeast Asia Trip
On August 25, the Council’s President & CEO Amb. Ted Osius was quoted by Bloomberg Politics on U.S. industry’s support of Vice President Harris’s Southeast Asia trip.  “Security is really about more than ships and planes, it’s also about ties between nations, and what I think the vice president is doing is cementing those ties in multiple areas on the two stops of her trip,” said Osius.  Click here to read the full article.
 
Amb. Michael Michalak Speaks about Vice President Harris’s Southeast Asia Trip on CNBC Squawk Box Asia
On August 25, the Council’s Senior Vice President & Regional Managing Director Amb. Michael Michalak spoke about how the United States is signaling its commitment to ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific through Vice President Harris’s Southeast Asia trip on CNBC Squawk Box Asia.  Click here to view a clip of the interview.
 
Amb. Ted Osius Discusses the Opportunities of Vice President Harris’s Southeast Asia Trip on Bloomberg’s Daybreak Asia
On August 24, the Council’s President & CEO Amb. Ted Osius joined Bloomberg’s Daybreak Asia to analyze how the Vice President’s Southeast Asia trip presents opportunities for the United States to bolster its relations with ASEAN.  Click here to view a recording of the interview.
 
Alexander Feldman Quoted by the Associated Press on Vice President Harris’s Southeast Asia Trip
On August 23, the Council’s former President & CEO Alexander Feldman was quoted by the Associated Press regarding the Vice President’s trip to Southeast Asia.  “Where she could fall into a trap is really trying to pit this as a U.S. versus China trip. it should be a U.S. trip to our friends and partners in in Southeast Asia,” Feldman said.  Click here to read the full article.
 
Alexander Feldman Discusses U.S.-ASEAN Relations on CNBC Squawk Box Asia
On August 13, the Council’s former President & CEO Alexander Feldman joined CNBC Squawk Box Asia to discuss broader U.S.-ASEAN relations in the face of the public health crisis and broader political challenges in the region.  Click here to view a clip of the interview.  
COVID-19 Update
Brunei
After reporting no instances of local transmission of the virus for more than year, Brunei has begun to deal with community spread after detecting 15 cases in the span of just two days and two deaths as a part of a potential second wave.  As a result of the outbreak, government authorities in the country have immediately responded by implementing several control measures to contain the spread of the virus.  The new quarantine guidelines include the closure of religious venues, schools, mosques and most non-essential businesses; limiting meetings to a maximum of 30 people; and requiring masks at all times. The Ministry of Health claimed in a statement that these new local cases may be “due to (patients) having been in contact with imported cases.” In this vein, the authorities are investigating illegal border crossings between Brunei and Malaysia as a potential source of the latest infections. Most international travel to and from Brunei has also been suspended until October 30.  The Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) has suspended most of its routes, with limited commercial flights continuing to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Melbourne, and Singapore only.
 
Cambodia
Daily COVID-19 case rate in Cambodia continues to remain relatively high at an average of 500 cases per day, bringing the estimated number of cases in the country to over 90,000.  Since the country reopened its borders last week, the primary concern is the spread Delta variant from incoming travelers.  As of today, new Delta cases have been reported in Stung Treng, Kampong Thom, Banteay Meanchey, and Battambang, and more Delta cases are expected to emerge over the next few days. Amidst the concern of the COVID-19 Delta variant entering the country, Cambodia has been very successful in its vaccination efforts:  Phnom Penh is ranked first in terms of vaccine doses per capita globally according to the Financial Times. As of August 14, the country has vaccinated 8,930,272 of the initial target of 10 million people.  Simultaneously, the government has started its vaccination drive for children aged 12-17 on August 1, while administering a third booster dose of AstraZeneca to frontline personnel in seven provinces bordering Thailand.  country is also planning to provide a third booster dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to those who have received either the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines, which constitutes about 7.5 million people.
 
Indonesia
After reaching its peak in cases a month ago, Indonesia is experiencing a downward trend in daily COVID-19 cases.  The country’s daily number of cases has decreased from 44,721 on July 18 to 16,744 on August 21.  In addition, 20.4 percent of Indonesia’s population (55 million people) have received at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 15.4 percent a month ago.  In total, the country has 3,989,060 COVID-19 cases and 127,214 deaths.  Even as the number of cases decrease in the more densely populated areas of Java and Bali, the outer islands are experiencing an uptick in cases.  The rapid increase in infections has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare infrastructure, leading President Joko Widodo to extend the emergency mobility restrictions (PPKM) from July 3 through August 23.  While these numbers are showing a positive trend toward recovery, informed sources believe that these numbers are likely below, possibly significantly below, the actual numbers.
 
Laos
As of August 23, Laos reported having 152 new cases of positive COVID-19 infections for a seven-day average of 72 new cases.  As Laos is experiencing surges in cases of infections in various parts of the country, usually regions bordering neighboring nations with cross border movements of migrant workers, the Government of Laos is attempting to increase its national vaccination campaign by targeting efforts in the Bokeo, Savannakhet and Champasak provinces.  The Lao Ministry of Health reported that 2,131,014 people across the country had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 1,668,064 people have had two doses.  The most used vaccine in Laos is the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, and the Lao Ministry of National Defense announced it has received another 400,000 doses of vaccine, the sixth batch donated by China.
 
Malaysia
Despite Malaysia’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through the National Recovery Plan and continuous updates to its Movement Control Orders, the country has still seen a spike in daily COVID-19 cases, now reporting a total of 1.44 million cases as of mid-August.  Vaccination efforts however have been prolific; approximately 35.7 percent of Malaysia is fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated individuals in certain states are now subject to fewer restrictions, and many states continue to transition forward through the phases of the National Recovery Plan as vaccination rates increase. COVID-19 has also recently shaken Malaysia’s political structure. Prime Minister Muhyiddin resigned from his role on August 16 due to criticisms regarding his management of the pandemic.  Despite political uncertainty, vaccination efforts remain a priority.  All adults in Malaysia are projected to be fully vaccinated by October.
 
Myanmar
The failure of coup leaders to control the spread of COVID-19 in Myanmar is also resulting in a near-total collapse of the country’s healthcare system.  Britain’s UN ambassador warned the international community in an informal Security Council discussion on Myanmar that half of the country’s more than 54 million people could be infected with COVID-19 in the next two weeks. According to local news media and social welfare groups, more than 17,000 bodies were cremated within two weeks while the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) fails to properly record these statistics.  (To read the Council’s recent analytical update on the COVID-19 situation in Myanmar, please click here.)  To curb the spread of COVID-19 infections, the regime has announced the extension of “public holiday” and closure of government offices until the end of August. 
 
Philippines
The highly transmissible Delta variant has rapidly spread across Southeast Asia and pushed the Philippine Government to re-instate lockdown measures – placing Metro Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the strictest type of lockdown in the country, from August 6 to 20.  Over the last month, the total number of daily cases has escalated to over 10,000 cases nationwide.  Under the ECQ in Metro Manila, only essential establishments and industries could operate.  The ECQ also impacted domestic and international travel as Philippine Airlines suspended several non-essential domestic flights until August 20, in line with the government’s decision to place the National Capital Region under ECQ and control the spread of the virus.  Apart from domestic travel, the Philippines also placed an international travel ban for all inbound travelers from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia.  These were placed in addition to the previously issued travel bans from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Oman, and the UAE.  On vaccination process, as of mid-August, 11.9 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.  To see the full government order issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), please click here
 
Singapore
As of August 24, Singapore reported having 98 new cases of COVID-19 for a seven-day average of 50 new cases.  Recent isolated outbreaks have been clustered around a worker’s dormitory. The Government of Singapore has also announced its intent to pivot its national COVID-19 strategy from a “zero tolerance” based approach to an “endemic or resilient” based approach.  This shift in approach has informed the Government of Singapore’s efforts to gradually reopen international travel on a limited basis when at least 80 percent of the population has received two doses of an approved vaccine.  Under these guidelines, Singaporeans will be allowed to travel without quarantining on their return to two countries (Germany and Brunei) with low rates of COVID-19. Under this framework, mask-wearing will remain mandatory, contact-tracing apps will remain in use, and restaurants will still be subject to curfews.
 
Thailand
As of August 24, Thailand reported having 17,491 new cases of positive COVID-19 infections for a seven-day average of 19,358 new cases and roughly 200 daily fatalities.  The Government of Thailand announced that it will obtain 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine this year and plans to receive 50 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in 2022.  To date, about 10 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.  The Government of Thailand also announced its intent to gradually evolve its COVID-19 national strategy.  The National Communicable Disease Committee said the country’s strategy will shift to one of “learning to live with Covid-19,” recognizing the endemic nature of the virus.  The new strategy will focus on containing levels of infection below the capacity of Thailand’s healthcare infrastructure.  It will also involve implementing measures to gradually relax economic restrictions and reopen borders over the next two months.
 
Vietnam
The strict COVID-19 stay-at-home order adopted under Directive 16, which has been in effect in more than 20 localities in Vietnam, was set to expire on August 1.  However, rising cases, especially in the two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, has cautioned policymakers to extend the deadline and impose even tougher prevention measures.  The Ministry of Health (MOH) is accelerating its efforts to increase the capacity of quarantine and treatment centers and procure more ICU beds and critical equipment in hospitals in smaller provinces.  The Government of Vietnam has issued Decision No. 3355/QD-BYT mapping out its COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign.  A detailed summary of Vietnam’s COVID-19 vaccine policies, including a list of priority targets and localities to receive vaccines, vaccine management and procedure guidelines, and vaccine passports, can be found here.  In conjunction with ramping up its production of a homegrown vaccine, the MOH has also signed three COVID-19 vaccine technology transfer contracts with the Japanese pharmaceutical firm Shionogi, the Russian Direct Investment Fund for the Sputnik V vaccine, and U.S. partners at the World Health Organization.  A vaccine factory in Vietnam is scheduled to be completed by June 2022.
Country, Industry and Advocacy Updates
Key Developments 
 
Singapore Concludes FTA Negotiations with Pacific Alliance
On July 21, Singapore and the Pacific Alliance announced the conclusion of free trade negotiations granting Singapore status as the first Associated State for the trading bloc consisting of four Latin American countries: Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.  The Associated State mechanism promotes free trade agreements and provides windows of opportunities for cooperation.  For the Pacific Alliance (PA), the FTA would enable to explore areas for collaboration on the digital economy that may include the linking of Singapore’s national Single Window with the PA’s, port management and logistics, infrastructure and urban solutions, energy collaboration, and food trade.  The PA states will also explore the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) upon Singapore’s suggestion.
 
Official Launch of OSS Business Licensing System
On August 9, the Government of Indonesia officially launched the updated version of the Online Single Submission (OSS) system, a web-based platform for business license facilitation.  The system uses the so-called risk-based approach, which applies administrative requirements based on business risk.  Businesses with low-risk ratings in health, safety, and environment will only need to acquire a registration number (NIB), while those deemed as high-risk must fulfil additional requirements, such as obtaining environmental permits.  President Joko Widodo expects this licensing system reform, which was mandated by the Omnibus Law of Job Creation, to improve the ease of doing business for mSMEs and large businesses and to create more jobs.
 
Philippines 2022 Elections
Presidential elections in the Philippines have been held every 6 years since 1992 to elect the country’s President and Vice President.  In May 2022, the country chooses not just the next President and Vice President, but also 12 Senators to fill the contested seats of the 24-member upper house and over 200 members of the House of Representatives.  All local positions are also contested at the province, city, or municipal levels, except for the barangay, the smallest local government unit.  The Philippine Constitution imposes strict term limits: 6 years for a President and Vice President, 6 years for the Senate (two consecutive terms allowed), and 3 years for members of the House of Representatives (3 consecutive terms allowed).  The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has set the one-week filing of Certificates of Candidacy (COC) for all elective positions for May 9, 2022 National and Local Elections from October 1-8, 2021.  The campaign period for candidates in national positions (President, Vice-President, Senator, and party-list groups) is from February 8 to May 7, 2022.  Candidates in local elective positions (members of House of Representatives and regional, provincial, city, and municipal officials) may only campaign from March 25 to May 7, 2022. More information on the election and campaign periods may be found here.
 
Cambodia announced ‘Maybank-Bakong Cross Border Funds Transfer’
On August 11, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) and Maybank announced a real-time funds transfer service between Malaysia and Cambodia. The first phase of the launch will enable transfers from Malaysia to Cambodia, while the transfers from Cambodia to Malaysia will be rolled out later. Maybank customers in Malaysia may transfer funds directly to Cambodia via the bank’s MAE app, using only phone numbers of the recipients registered with a Bakong e-wallet. Launched in October last year, Bakong is Cambodia’s own central bank digital currency (CBDC) and is pegged as the new backbone of Cambodian digital payments and settlement infrastructure. The project was created to explore digital payments, encourage the use of local currency, and improve financial inclusion among underserved citizens in the country. According to Dr. Chea Serey, assistant governor and director general of central banking of NBC, the partnership between Maybank and Bakong is a significant step in promoting the development of fintech and enhancing cross-border connectivity between the two countries.
 
BIS and MAS Release Blueprint for M-CBDCs
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) published a new blueprint for linking domestic real-time payment systems across borders.  The joint project, titled Project Nexus, outlines how countries can unify multiple retail payment systems from different countries into a single network that allows users to make cross-border transfers instantly and securely via mobile devices. The project builds upon a previous bilateral linkage established between Singapore’s PayNow and Thailand’s PromptPay in April of 2021.  The project is comprised of two main elements.  The first involves nexus gateways, which are intended to coordinate payment sequencing, foreign exchange conversion, and compliance; and the second is a nexus scheme, which provides a governance framework for retail payment systems, banks, and payment service providers to coordinate with one another.  The two-front structure is intended to enhance both the direct connections between payment systems in different countries as well as the overarching infrastructure within which those exchanges occur.
 
Indonesian Bond Trading Set to Slow Despite Leading Emerging Markets in Asia
Although Indonesian bonds have yielded higher returns than their ASEAN counterparts, foreign and private investment in Rupiah-denominated debt has begun to drop as the country faces rising COVID-19 case numbers and challenges to economic recovery.  Indonesia leads emerging Asian nations in bonds yields, with Rupiah debt returning 3.9% last quarter and Indonesia’s total bond returns standing at 1.6% in July.  Nonetheless, markets have begun to retract as the country witnesses its latest surge in COVID-19 cases and struggles against the Delta variant, edging investors’ fears.  U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said that there is a low risk of selloff in Indonesian debt for now, but the country needs to make progress on its economic recovery soon.  However, fears over capital outflow from Indonesia due to U.S. rate hikes like the “taper tantrum” of 2013 remain overblown, given the relatively large foreign-reserve stockpiles, stable inflation, and strong local-currency bond markets.  The Bank of Indonesia has also taken the initiative in increasing its purchases of government debt, not only to replace fleeing investors, but also to become a source of affordable and less volatile flows for the Indonesian Government to fund its fiscal spending and stimulate economic recovery.  As Bank Indonesia steps in to fill the gap left by private investors, Indonesia is likely to see strengthened economic resilience and market stability in the medium term.
 
Thailand Continues Securing FTAs to Boost Exports
The Commerce Ministry of Thailand is looking to propose negotiation frameworks for the Thai-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and ASEAN-Canada FTA for cabinet approval in the third quarter of this year.  When the Thai-EU FTA becomes effective, Thailand will benefit from trade and investment expansion from its fifth-largest trading partner, the EU.  The joint understanding document, which sets the framework for talks, includes trade in goods, trade in services and investments, intellectual property, government procurement, and e-commerce.  Furthermore, the ASEAN-Canada FTA, if it goes into effect, is expected to boost economic growth by almost 2%, or US$7.967 billion.  Other efforts to boost exports by Thailand include securing mini free trade agreements (mini-FTA) with Hainan, China, Gyeonggi, South Korea, and Telangana, India, by the end of August.  The country has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create a mini-FTA with Kofu, Japan, which will mutually benefit both locales in the areas of manufacturing, joint marketing, and technology transfers.
 
Indonesian Halal Industry Update
The Ministry of Religious Affairs recently released a new draft amendment to Decree 464 / 2020 on the Types of Product and Consumer Goods that are Required to be Halal Certified.  The regulation defines 15 categories of products/consumer goods and outlines the role of the Halal Product Assurance Agency (BPJPH), Fatwa Commission of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, Halal Examination Agency, and related ministries.  Currently, the draft is awaiting signature from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Following the issuance of Government Regulation 39 / 2021 on Administration of Halal Product Guarantees, the Ministry of Finance issued Ministerial Regulation 57 / 2021 on Service Rate for BLU BPJPH at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  The implementing regulation outlines the service rate within the Halal Product Assurance Agency (BPJPH), which is divided into general service rate and supporting service rate.  The provision on general services covers (1) Halal certification for good/services; (2) accreditation for Halal Examination Agency (LPH); (3) Halal auditor registration; (4) Halal auditor training services; and (5) Halal auditor and supervisor competency certification.  Small and micro-sized enterprises will be exempt from the fee of Halal certification for good/services.  Meanwhile, foreign enterprises who wish to acquire the certification can be charged 150% higher than the original service rate.  The Government of Indonesia is set to launch a Halal product codification system in the fourth quarter of 2021 as part of the efforts to enhance its position in the global Halal value chain.  According to the National Sharia Economy and Finance Committee (KNEKS), the Halal product codification system is based on the harmonized system (HS) coding system.  Furthermore, by the end of 2021, the codification system will be integrated with the National Single Window Agency (LNSW)’s trading transaction data, which has streamlined data from 15 ministries and agencies – including the Ministry of Trade and Food and Drug Agency (BPOM), among others.
Current Advocacy
 
Call for Input: Draft Amendment to Decree 72 on the Management of Internet Services
The Vietnam Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) recently released a new draft amendment to Decree No. 72/2013/ND-CP on the Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Online Information.  The amended decree will institute a variety of reforms, including enhanced regulations on live streaming services, obligations for child protection on social media platforms, and stricter provisions for the removal of illegal content.  Please find linked an English copy of the Draft Amendment to Decree 72 on Management of Internet Services.  The MIC is receiving feedback for the proposed amendments to Decree 72 until September 5. The Council is collecting inputs from members for consolidation and submission to the MIC.  Please send your comments to Heidi Mah (hmah@usasean.org), Minh Vu (mvu@usasean.org), and Ryan DelGaudio (rdelgaudio@usasean.org).
 
Call for Input: Vietnam Draft Decree on the Law on Environment Protection
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) is working on a Draft Decree to add more details on articles in the Law on Environment Protection.  We invite interested members to provide comments on the articles revised in the Draft Decree.  Please find a copy of the Draft Decree and its annex attached. The Draft Decree is also available online at the MONRE website here.  To submit comments (preferably in Vietnamese), please reach out to Nguyen Hien Chi (cnguyen@usasean.org) and Minh Vu (mvu@usasean.org).  The deadline for input is COB 1st October (Hanoi Time).  Previously, the Council had called for inputs on the second draft of the Draft Decree.  However, the drafting team at MONRE has requested inputs on the initial draft instead.
 
Call for Input: Vietnam Draft Decree on Import Management on Refurbished Goods pursuant to the CPTPP
On August 24, the Vietnam Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) published the Draft Decree on Refurbished Goods subject to Import Management pursuant to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP).  The Draft Decree is focusing on the regulations relating to refurbished goods (definition, limited list and administrative procedures for the importation) and will impact companies doing business in CPTPP markets, in the sectors of medical equipment, ICT, manufacturing, as well as logistics.  The Council is collecting inputs and preparing a submission for the MOIT.  Please send your inputs (preferably in Vietnamese) using the attached matrix to Bui Kim Thuy (tbui@usasean.org) and Nguyen Hoai Phuong (pnguyen@usasean.org) by COB Friday, September 10.  For a copy of the the Draft Decree, the MOIT's report which provides more context to the Draft Decree, and the inputs from relevant Ministries (all in Vietnamese), please also contact Thuy and Phuong.
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