Latest ASEAN news

Adoption of electronic sanitary and phytosanitary certificates in Asia key to inclusive growth

Business and economic experts sounded an urgent call for emerging economies in Asia

to adopt electronic sanitary and phytosanitary certificates (SPS e-certs) to unlock the

many benefits of cross-border paperless trade in food and agricultural products.


Ronald Antonio Butiong, chief of regional cooperation and integration for sustainable

development at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said in a recent webinar that

digitalizing trade facilitation procedures is necessary for more inclusive trade and



This is more so in agriculture, on which many developing economies in the region



Butiong explained: “Cross-border production networks in Asia and the Pacific are

particularly strong in primary goods, including agriculture. In 2019, for instance, Asia’s

global value chain participation rate was about 87% of its gross exports in the primary

sector, higher than all other sectors, and about 70% of this comes from trade within



Switching to SPS e-certs will benefit our economies, enhance trade, and promote rural

employment and the participation of small businesses, he added.


He urged continued support for trade facilitation through enhancing digitalization,

harmonizing policies, and building capacity in customs systems, largely by acquiring the

needed technology and streamlining policies and procedures while promoting

interoperability of ICT systems.


He expressed hope that SPS e-certs will become a reality, noting that “this is a topic

that requires urgent action.”


Yann Duval, officer in charge of trade, investment and innovation at the United Nations

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP), said SPS e-

certs are among the documents being prioritized by countries implementing cross-

border paperless trade.


This, he said, means that SPS electronic certificates will be a key focus of discussions

when the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in

Asia and the Pacific is implemented starting early next year.


The Agreement, a UN ESCAP treaty adopted in May 2016 to accelerate the

implementation of digital trade facilitation measures, entered into force on February 20,



It aims to promote cross-border paperless trade by enabling the exchange and mutual

recognition of trade-related data and documents in electronic form and by facilitating

interoperability among national and subregional single windows or other paperless trade



Melvin Spreij, head of the Secretariat of the Standards and Trade Development Facility

(STDF), at the same event noted that governments and industries are actively seeking

solutions to move goods across borders more quickly and efficiently in the wake of the

entry into force of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and as

a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Spreij called for the increased use of electronic certification to facilitate safe trade in

food and agriculture products.


“Paperless sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) systems can improve traceability

throughout supply chains, cut trade times and costs, lower food waste, reduce

fraudulent certificates and build trust among trading partners,” he said.


Oswald Kuyler, managing director of digital standards initiative at the International

Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said paperless SPS systems offer enormous efficiency,

effectiveness and risk-reduction benefits.


When economies transition to digital trade, it will ensure people’s health and safety by

minimizing of physical contact, promote consumption of safe products, and solve the

trade finance gap for entrepreneurs trying to support their families, he said.


Finally, Hilde Kruse, senior officer at Codex Alimentarius Commission Secretariat for the

FAO/WHO Food Standards Program, disclosed that the Codex Committee on Food

Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) has developed a draft

guidance document on the paperless use of electronic certificates, including an

electronic version of the Generic Model Official Certificate.


“It was highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic had illustrated the importance of

paperless use of electronic certificates and the urgency to complete the revision of the

existing guidelines,” said Kruse.


“Furthermore, this work is according to the CODEX Strategic Plan 2020-2025, which

states that CODEX should address current, emerging and critical issues in a timely



Following the virtual presentation of the draft guidance three months ago, the final

version will be presented to the Codex Alimentarius Commission for adoption when it

meets from November 8 to November 18 this year, she said.


The Commission is the global body that develops principles and guidelines for food

inspection and certification systems.


The Codex Alimentarius, or “Food Code,” is a collection of international standards,

guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair

practices in the food trade. Codex standards are used worldwide to harmonize national

food safety regulations and are recognized as the international reference point for food



When food producers and traders comply with Codex standards, consumers can trust

the safety and quality of the products they buy, and importers can have confidence that

the food they ordered will meet the specifications.

The Rise Of Southeast Asia’s Start-Up Scene

The Airbnb of luxury luggage, Uber for home massage, and blockchain for pets are just a few recent examples of start-up ideas that make you wonder if the world has run out of bigger dreams to pursue. Indeed, the aggregator business model has disrupted almost any industry, with at least half a dozen companies now competing in every relatively big niche from flower delivery to private jet hailing. The popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain then gave birth to another wave of start-ups applying these trendy technologies to just about any area of business. And the rise of telework during the COVID-19 pandemic now brought life to yet another generation of start-ups offering various technologies for improved remote collaboration: those copying Zoom (GoToMeeting), Slack (PukkaTeam), Dropbox (Box and Cloudera) or covering very niche user needs like scheduling a team lunch for a hybrid-working team (Lunch Train).

This makes some observers wonder if Silicon Valley is running out of big ideas. Entrepreneurs seem to hunt for the next niche market where the cookie-cut technological concepts have not been applied yet, unavoidably framing their pitch into a “we are X for Y” pattern. Bold product innovations now seem to be the prerogative of tech giants, while the destiny of start-ups is to supply big players with small process innovations that would be acquired together with the whole company. While this trend might seem like an indication of Silicon Valley’s declining innovativeness, in fact, it is not. Innovation does not necessarily need to completely change the way humans interact with computers, as Doug Engelbart’s ideas - personal computer, hypertext, word processing, teleconferencing, mouse, to name but a few - did.

To pass as “business innovation,” a new product or process needs to differ significantly from what was previously produced by the firm, in its own market, or in the entire world, as Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the main goalkeeper for measuring innovation on the country level, puts it. Simply put, the same idea applied in a new industry or geographical location can bring significant disruption and thus lead to substantial business growth if it solves real people's problems. When evaluating a start-up pitch, it takes extra effort to judge the idea not by its uniqueness but by its appropriateness to a new market in which it is applied.

In fact, old ideas could potentially yield even better results than in the market they were originally implemented in when brought to the geographies not spoiled with technological improvements. Perhaps, the most prominent “not spoiled” region like this is now in Southeast Asia. Its start-up scene outperformed all other emerging markets in 2020 by raising US$8.2 billion. What’s more, it continues to show a great performance in 2021 as well, setting a record year by raising US$6 billion of venture capitalist (VC) funding in the first quarter alone. The growth of the digital economy in Southeast Asia provides fertile grounds for ventures.

On the one hand, the population is still coming online. In 2020, over 40 million users in six major markets hit the web for the first time, which is 10 percent of all the Internet users in the region. They are not fully covered with the technological solutions mature users are used to, like mobile banking, delivery services, and e-commerce. On the other hand, the population is increasingly willing to pay. According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’s 2018 estimates, up to 10 percent of the citizens in the major Southeast Asia economies belonged to what consultancy dubbed “mass-affluent class.” And by 2030, their share in the region might grow up to 21 percent. These 136 million digitally-savvy and premium product-oriented consumers are expected to further drive the demand in the region, along with the projected 350 million middle-income consumers. Combining these two factors provides plenty of opportunities, and there are already many start-ups capturing them. Does this mean that cookie-cutter solutions are enough for these markets? Not really. What you actually need to do is to look at the proven models somewhere else, on the one hand, and analyze the real problems of users in the region on the other hand. And finally, use the former for solving the latter.

In some cases, a slight adaptation of the solution already implemented somewhere else would work. For example, Southeast Asia e-commerce leader Lazada was actually inspired by Amazon, with the initial goal articulated as “becoming the Amazon of Southeast Asia” by riding on the wave of increasing Internet penetration and demand for e-commerce services. Tiki, another e-commerce player in the region, was not only called the “Vietnamese Amazon,” but also started the business as an online bookseller, just like Amazon did. In other cases, a unique user pain might inspire a completely new solution. For example, the Indonesian grocery delivery service Sayurbox got its business idea from observing tens of thousands of small-scale farmers spread across 17,000 islands in the country struggling without tech-savvy logistics solutions. Whereas PayMaya created its mobile banking app specifically for the Philippines market to solve the problems of the unbanked population in the country, which still makes up two-thirds of the nation despite the increasing number of smartphone users. 

But more often than not, the approach can be blended. The two largest and most-awaited IPOs in Southeast Asia this year - Grab and GoTo - are both coming from the companies that started off as an Uber-type ride-hailing platform, developed into a Chinese super-app- type ecosystem, and all along were devoted to solving the problems of their local customers and partners on the ground. While there is no simple recipe for winning Southeast Asia markets, reapplying simple solutions from somewhere else should not be shied away from. Product usage, and subsequently business growth, comes when your idea solves the real user pain. And whether this idea is a globally unique one or another application of the “we are X for Y” pattern - does not matter.

Source: The ASEAN Post

SET to launch “Live Exchange” market for SME fundraising

The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) is opening a new market on September 14 called “Live Exchange” to serve as a fundraising platform for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
"Currently there are about 30 SMEs who have expressed interest in this market by joining SET’s training programme called “Scaling Up Platform”, which will help prepare them for the fundraising,” said Manpong Senanarong, SET senior executive vice president and head of issuer and listing division, on Thursday.
“We expect the fundraising in Live Exchange will actually start at the earliest before the year-end, or in early 2022 at the latest.”
Businesses who join the market before 2023 will be exempted from all the fees for three years, he added.
“Interested businesses will be allowed to submit their filings after the Securities and Exchange Commission has issued all related regulations of the market,” said Manpong.
“The consideration period of filings for the new market will be shorter compared to the SET and MAI [Market for Alternative Investment].”
Live Exchange will open only to SME operators who meet the asset requirements and not to retail investors. Trading will open one round per day and continuous trading is not allowed. Investors can only sell shares that they actually hold, while buyers of shares must use cash only.
Original published: September 10, 2021

BOT sees no need to tap IMF’s Special Drawing Rights facility

The Bank of Thailand (BOT) on Friday September 11, 2021 said it had no compulsion to utilise the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) as the countrys current foreign exchange reserves were adequate to meet its commitments.

SDRs are international reserve assets created by the IMF to supplement the official reserves of member countries. The value of an SDR is based on a basket of five -- the US dollar, the euro, the Chinese renminbi, the Japanese yen, and the British pound sterling. SDRs are allocated to IMF member countries in proportion to their relative share in the IMF. Countries can exchange SDRs for hard currencies with other IMF members.

The IMF on August 23 had allocated a historic budget of $650 billion for the SDR project with the aim of helping countries revive their economies that had been hit by Covid-19.

“If we use an SDR, we will need to pay interest to the IMF. This interest is based on the five currencies whose value could rise over time,” the BOT said.

“SDRs are suitable for countries that do not have enough foreign reserves to pay for foreign expenditure, such as trade debts, which is not the case with Thailand,” the BOT said.

Original published: September 11, 2021

Narrowing the Digital Divide in ASEAN: Infrastructure, Skills and Opportunities

The ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025 envisions ASEAN as a “leading digital community and economic bloc” – a bold plan that demands effective investments in infrastructure and skills.

he Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) organised the webinar, “Investing in Digital Infrastructure: Narrowing the Digital Divide in ASEAN”. Moderated by Mr Satyanarayan Ramamurthy, Partner and Head of Infrastructure, Government and Healthcare with KPMG Singapore, and SIIA Associate Council Member, the webinar featured Dr. Le Quang Lan, Assistant Director, Head of the ICT & Tourism Division, ASEAN Secretariat, and Mr. Andrew Williamson, Vice President and Economic Advisor of Government Affairs, Huawei.

Governments need to ensure equitable digital transformation

As the adoption of digitalisation increase, ASEAN governments have been pressured to develop digital infrastructure. Yet in the process, Dr Lan emphasised that millions of people, particularly the less digitally-enabled, may be excluded from affordable services and relevant content. Mr Williamson stated that businesses must adapt, they would either “go digital or go dark”. To prevent large-scale inequalities, governments have to encourage private sector investments in rural areas too.

“In a contactless world, the vast majority of interactions with customers and employees must take place virtually. With rare exception, operating digitally is the only way to stay in business through mandated shutdowns and restricted activity,” said Williamson.

Unfortunately, telecommunications infrastructure is too costly to establish in far-flung regions. Rural residents and small businesses also lack the readiness to create economic value after being connected. A holistic approach is essential for equitable and effective results. Local governments would need to incentivise the private sector to digitally onboard the entire nation, promote the innovation of cost-effective digital solutions, and also raise public digital literacy and awareness.

ASEAN as a source of guidance for comprehensive and rationale policies

ASEAN’s importance lies in knowledge-sharing and shaping legal frameworks. The regional bloc collates and disseminates best practices across the region. The Digital Masterplan 2025 is an example of the bloc is assisting less-digitalised economies on issues including, but not limited to strengthening rural connectivity, coordinating cross-border data flows, and adopting new (Industrial Revolution 4.0) technologies. Attention is particularly directed to scaling up Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs); ultimately providing affordable services to rural, urban and international consumers. Mr Williamson highlighted that the region has promising unicorns, so retaining digital talent would also be a priority.

A concern, however, is underlying geopolitical tensions. Both Dr Lan and Mr Williamson warned against the bifurcation of digital and IR 4.0 technologies. Sino-American tensions have deepened techno-nationalism, which only results in losses to all parties involved. Countries are cautioned against decisions based on political motivations. Dr Lan affirms that “ASEAN very much abides by the principle of technology neutrality…we [ASEAN] shall not prevent [the adoption] of one technology over another.” This principle will play a key role in developing a common standard that can maintain global value chains while sustaining regional business development.

Private sector innovation critical to realising the visions of a digital economy

Based on a historical example of the optimisation of internal combustion engines in the 19th century, Mr Williamson illustrated that the world is at the brink of revolutionising new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and machine-learning. This is an opportunity for ASEAN to lead, innovate and dramatically reduce digital infrastructure costs. Bigger players with rich resources like Huawei would need to be the first movers. Major companies can, and have already been, partnering with governments in producing training and upskilling programmes. Whether it be young students, small enterprises, women or mid-career switching talents, public-private collaborations would be beneficial in creating an attractive and diverse digital talent pool. The end goal is a robust and productive digital ecosystem that boosts the entire private sector, including MSMEs.

Involving all stakeholders is key to an inclusive digital community

ASEAN is a diverse region; each country’s digital strategy has a different level of maturity. It is crucial that the initiatives take advantage of the stakeholder’s capabilities, while also accounting for their needs. With an internet economy set to reach US$300 billion in 2025, more opportunities would arise. As a member of ASEAN and a key hub in the region, Singapore’s interests are tied to this ongoing transformation.

Original published: Septmber 15, 2021

Export industry making most of FTA, GSP pacts, says trade dept

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has not affected Thailand’s free trade agreements (FTAs) or the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), the Department of Foreign Trade (DFT) said on Thursday September 16, 2021.

In the first seven months of this year, deals under the pacts had risen by 36.23 per cent compared to the same period last year, while the industries using the privileges most were agriculture and food, DFT said.

Keerati Rushchano, DFT director-general, said the total value of deals made by Thai exporters under the FTA and GSP pacts between January and July this year stood at US$46.4 billion, up 36.23 per cent from the same period last year.

Between January and July, Thailand has increased its use of trade incentives under various FTA and GSP frameworks in a bid to boost exports. Besides, several markets have started recovering in the wake of the Covid-19 fallout. For instance, export to India has risen by 4.91 per cent, while Thailand’s shipments to Asean and Japan has expanded by 3.89 per cent.

Products benefiting the most from these pacts are industrial goods, food and beverage, as well as agricultural products such as processed coconut, seasonings, water/non-alcoholic beverages, processed food, canned pineapples, fish, rice and aromatics used in the food industry.

Original published: September 17, 2021

Thailand hikes public debt-GDP ceiling to 70% to fund recovery

The State Fiscal Policy Committee on Monday approved raising Thailand’s public debt ceiling from 60 per cent to 70 per cent of GDP.

The new limit would be proposed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting for approval, said Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith.

The committee, which is chaired by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, said it approved the hike in case the government needs to borrow more money in the medium term.

A Finance Ministry source said raising the debt ceiling would aid the government in setting its budget deficit for fiscal year 2022, which starts next month.

The government has so far borrowed 1.5 trillion baht to fund Covid-19 relief and stimulus programmes, 500 billion baht of which was approved this year. However, Bank of Thailand Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput recently urged the government to borrow another 1 trillion baht to aid recovery from the pandemic.

The committee said Thailand’s fiscal position remains healthy with good debt-repayment capability.

Original published: September 20, 2021

Energy policy panel approves initial 20-year national power plan

The Energy Policy Administration Committee chaired by Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow on Monday approved the first revision of the National Power Development Plan of 2018-2037, a source said.

This version reportedly includes the objective of securing national energy stability by producing clean energy, reducing carbon emission and helping Thailand become a decarbonised society. The objective will be implemented between 2021 and 2030.

The committee has also tasked the Energy Policy and Planning Office (EPPO) and Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE) to revise the annual production capacity of power plants fueled by coal and natural gas, boost their capacity through the use of renewable energy (biomass, biogas, solar, wind, community and industrial wastes), as well as consider buying electricity generated by hydro-power plants from neighboring countries.

The committee also agreed to extend the price guarantee for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at Bt318 per 15-kilogram canister for three months until December 31. The move aims to ease people’s financial burden in the fallout of Covid-19 even though the global price of LPG is trending upwards. The Energy Ministry has been tasked with monitoring the price of LPG closely and proposing a price revision to the committee when necessary.

Original published: September 21, 2021

Thailand reevaluates CPTPP pact after China membership expands market size

The Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN) said on Monday that Thailand is reevaluating the pros and cons of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) free trade agreement after China signed the pact last week.

Auramon Supthaweethum, the department's director-general, said the market size of CPTPP is now bigger than it was when it only had 11 signatories, namely Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“With China, the CPTPP population has expanded to over 1.9 billion people or 25 per cent of the global population with a total gross domestic product [GDP] of approximately US$25.3 trillion or 30 per cent of the global GDP,” she said.

However, she added that CPTPP was smaller than the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which comprises 15 members, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The RCEP is the world's largest free trade agreement covering over 2.3 billion people or 30 per cent of the global population with a total GDP of $28.5 trillion or 33.6 per cent of the global GDP.

"China's move to join the CPTPP agreement will help expand trade and investment opportunities among member countries, especially participation in the regional supply chain, as China is an important material resource and production base in the region," she said.

"Meanwhile, it proved that China is ready to improve standards and regulations to match those of member countries, such as intellectual property protection, labour rights, e-commerce and state enterprises' operations."

Thailand has free trade agreements with nine CPTPP members, namely Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Peru.

Auramon added that Thailand was getting ready to negotiate a free-trade agreement between Asean countries and Canada soon.

"The expansion of CPTPP had caused Thailand to reevaluate agreement's benefits and impacts, such as tariff reduction or suspension, product origin and trade facilitation rules," she said.

The Commerce Ministry will also reevaluate the agreement before it proposes changes to the Cabinet, she said.

Since, CPTPP is an issue that is closely followed by many sectors, the International Economic Policy Committee, which is made of senior representatives of the economic sector, is required to participate in the reevaluation as well.

Original published: September 21, 2021 

ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA expands to boost economic recovery post-Covid

Hong Kong and Asean have agreed to expand bilateral trade under their free-trade and investment agreements, the Thai Commerce Ministry revealed on Tuesday September 21, 2021.

The two agreements are crucial to the region’s economic recovery after the pandemic, said Commerce Vice Minister Sansern Samalapa, who headed the Thai delegation at last week’s 5th Asean-Hong Kong Economic Ministers' Meeting.

All sides agreed to add five more branches of economic and academic cooperation to the Asean-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Area (AHKFTA) Agreement and the Asean-Hong Kong Investment Agreement (AHKIA).

The five branches are sanitary and phytosanitary measures; standards, technical regulations and conformance assessment processes; intellectual property; digital technology for trade facilitation; and investment promotion.

The meeting also agreed to accelerate talks on the next negotiating plan, which covers product-specific rules under the AHKFTA, and investment clauses.

Hong Kong has already exempted import duties on all Asean products under the two agreements, which came into effect in February. It has also opened up its content production services to Thai radio and television operators.

Meanwhile, the territory has pledged 5 million Hong Kong dollars (21.4 million baht) to develop potential of Asean member countries.

Hong Kong is Thailand's 8th largest trading partner. Trade between the two territories in the first seven months this year (January-July), totalled $8.418 billion (281 billion baht), up 10.35 per cent from the same period in 2020.

Original published: September 21, 2021

Thailand seeks FTA with Eurasian Union

Thailand will seek a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Russia and four of its neighbours during a meeting with the Eurasian Economic Commission later this month.

Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit will chair the second round of trade talks with the commission by video link on Monday (September 27).

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) covers Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan – an economy of more than 180 million people and a GDP of over US$1.9 trillion.

It also boasts rich natural energy sources of oil, gas, coal and other minerals.

The EAEU already has an FTA with two Asean member countries, Vietnam and Singapore.

Trade between Thailand and the EAEU in the first seven months of 2012 (January-July) totalled $1,831.31 million, up 25 per cent from the same period last year.

Original published: September 23, 2021

ASEAN and South Korea to deepen trade ties

ASEAN countries and South Korea agreed to improve their free trade agreement during the recent 18th Asean-Korea Economic Ministers Consultation held virtually from September 13 to 15, Vice Commerce Minister Sansern Samalapa said on Sunday.

"The meeting agreed to expand the existing Asean Korea Free Trade Agreement (AKFTA) to provide tax exemption for additional products and promote trading between Asean members and South Korea,” he said.

“The ministers also urged the countries to exchange know-how in Covid-19 management to speed up their economic recovery after the outbreak situation has improved.

“South Korea is especially eager to cooperate with Asean nations in various aspects, such as establishing an industrial innovation centre to promote innovation development and commercial adaptation of innovations in Southeast Asia and South Korea,” added Sansern.

“They are also interested in opening more research and development centres dedicated to startup businesses in the region.”

The meeting also urged Vietnam, the only country in Asean yet to sign the Asean-Korea Trade in Goods Agreement (AKTIGA), to do so as soon as they can so that the agreement can start taking full effect. The AKTIGA is expected to help Asean-Korean entrepreneurs speed up export and import processes by issuing and signing a product’s certificate of origin digitally.

Statistics from the Commerce Ministry indicate that South Korea is currently Thailand’s ninth biggest trade partner with total trade value at $9.1 billion in the first seven months of 2021, increasing 34.5 per cent from the same period of the previous year. Thailand’s exports to South Korea were valued at $3.39 billion, comprising rubber products, wood, computer components, chemicals and aluminium products. Thailand’s imports from South Korea were recorded at $5.71 billion, made up of iron, steel, and electronic circuits.