Myanmar SEOM Leader, ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Pillar

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Dr Wah Wah Maung, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations.

Q: Since the MSMEs play a critical role in ASEAN countries, what would you like to suggest to policymakers in order to keep the MSMEs sector abreast with the emerging trends of digitalization?
A: Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are the backbone of ASEAN economies, constituting up to 97 per cent of enterprises in ASEAN countries, and accounting for 85 per cent of total employment in the region.
Strengthening the role of MSMEs is one of the key elements under the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025. For enhancing the competitiveness of MSMEs, ASEAN has done several good initiatives in terms of implementing strategic measures on promoting productivity, increasing access to finance, enhancing market access, enhancing MSME policy and regulatory environment and promoting entrepreneurship and human capital development. ASEAN Coordinating Committee on MSMEs (ACCMSME) was established to supervise and monitor these initiatives.
Since the MSMEs sector has been heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, ASEAN sets key priorities to mitigate the impacts of the health crisis on the MSMEs sector under the implementation plan of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) which is an exit strategy from the pandemic.
Under ACRF, the priority areas of providing the digital platform and related policy including promoting MSME digital upskilling and providing digital technology and fintech to access markets have been implemented. ASEAN has undertaken an in-depth assessment to identify challenges and recommendations to support the awareness and adoption of relevant technology and digital tools among MSMEs. Moreover, to increase technology adoption among MSMEs, the Action Agenda on Digitalization of ASEAN MSMEs has been implemented through Capacity Building Initiatives. Since the digital readiness of the MSMEs sector is different from one country to another, ASEAN has planned to develop a diagnostic tool for MSMEs to access their digital readiness.
As we all know, the rate of digital adoption in the ASEAN Business sector and Society has accelerated during the pandemic period. Therefore, ASEAN has set two key initiatives to ensure its digital transformation process in 2022 namely the Bandar Seri Begawan Roadmap and the Consolidated Strategy on the 4IR for ASEAN. These initiatives include specific targets and actions to provide relevant skills for MSME.
In addition, ASEAN has developed ASEAN SME Academy since 2016. The Academy is an online training platform and provides training courses to develop the digital skills of ASEAN MSMEs. In 2022, the Academy is upgrading to reach more MSMEs and help accelerate their business recoveries from the pandemic.
In this connection, the inclusion of digital-related content under ASEAN SME Academy training courses will surely help the digital development of MSMEs.
In addition, if the policy makers use incentive schemes to support MSMEs such as providing financial support, reducing regulatory burdens and providing awards in recognition of their excellent leadership in digital transformation, the innovative entrepreneurial spirit of MSMEs will be enhanced.

Q: The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe impacts on the socio-economic lives of people in the region and beyond. In this regard, how should the ASEAN Member States strive for strong economic, financial and momentary policies in order to prevent economic and financial crises in future?
A: As we all know, one of the obvious impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic is the supply chain problem. Taking lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the Pandemic caused the supply-chain disruption and shortage of essential goods such as medical supplies and foods. Inflation in the Member States continues to be raised on surging global commodity prices resulting from the impact of COVID-19 and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
In order to strengthen the ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, ASEAN signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2020 which committed to ensuring the smooth flow of essential goods, including food, medicines, and medical and other essential supplies. MOU is also undertaking to phase out or eliminate non-tariff measures which would unnecessarily impede intra-ASEAN trade flows of essential goods.
Although supply constraints for agricultural products may raise the global food prices, threatening global economic recovery from COVID-19, the ASEAN region is a net importer of grains – corn, wheat, and barley. Among the AMS, only Lao PDR and Myanmar, produce corn which is more than they can consume. Myanmar can contribute to securing regional food security.
In consideration of lessons learned from the current crisis, for preventing the economic and financial crisis in the future, ASEAN’s economic policies should focus on issues relating to food security, energy security, safe travel, macroeconomic and financial stability, broader economic security, prevention of supply chain disruptions and keeping market open for trade and investment.
Since the opportunity of the pandemic is the acceleration of the pace of digital adoption, ASEAN will continue its efforts for improving the region’s digital infrastructure and digital connectivity. The future financial and monetary policies will surely focus on improving digital payment infrastructure.
For achieving environmentally-friendly economic growth, ASEAN will pursue economic policies that protect the region’s environment and promote sustainable investment. ASEAN countries should formulate policies that are not only suitable and relevant to the national agenda but also in line with the regional integration process.

Q: Do you see the diversity of ASEAN Member States in political, economic and socio-cultural backgrounds as an asset or a cost in ASEAN integration efforts? And why?
A: From my perspective, the diversity of ASEAN Member States in political, economic and socio-cultural backgrounds is not a cost. It is an asset of unity in diversity in ASEAN integration. ASEAN has been a bright spot in the global economy in the last fifty-five years. Due to that reason, ASEAN could expand its relations with global political and economic powers.
ASEAN’s common desire and collective will are guided by ASEAN Charter as a legal status and institutional framework for ASEAN. The Charter has shaped ASEAN to be stronger and more united.
In addition, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) acts as the key code of conduct governing relations between member states.

In the realization of ASEAN’s future political, economic and social goals with a ‘unity in diversity’ spirit.
Principles and objectives enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, the declarations, sectoral cooperation agreements, and other instruments of ASEAN play the main mechanism in shaping future political, economic and social goals through the ‘Unity in Diversity’ spirit.
In addition, Bali Concord II also called on ASEAN to nurture common values, share information on common issues such as environmental degradation, maritime security, and defence, and develop a set of socio-political values and principles.
For realizing the equitable economic development goals of ASEAN, technical assistance and capability-building programmes for public and private sectors have been implemented under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) program.
ASEAN proved its successful integration into the global economy through the establishment of Free Trade Areas (FTA) with China, Hong Kong (China), Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. The world’s largest Free Trade Agreement, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which was signed by ASEAN and its FTA partners entered into force recently.
The reason that ASEAN is integrated into the global economy as a powerful group in the last 55 years has shown strong evidence of diversity can be an asset.

Q: As the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 is approaching its completion in 2025, what new visions ASEAN should be considered and what new goals should be set for the ASEAN Community’s post-2025 periods?
A: At the 37th ASEAN Summit in 2020, the ASEAN leaders announced the Ha Noi Declaration on the ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 vision for the development of the ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision and attendant document(s). ASEAN Leaders agreed that the development of a Post-2025 Vision shall be pursued in a comprehensive, pragmatic, balanced, inclusive and coordinated manner.
For developing ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision, the High-Level Task Force on the ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision (HLTF-ACV), which consists of 10 Eminent Persons and 10 High-Level Representatives, was established in 2021. Up to now, the two meetings of HLTF-ACV were conducted and discussed the possible core elements for the post-2025 vision. HLTF-ACV meetings will continue this year to finalize the core elements for consideration by ASEAN leaders.
The core elements for ASEAN Community’s post-2025 vision may consider geopolitical dynamics which can impact the stability of ASEAN and economic and social affairs, and increased protectionism. In addition, core elements should include collective measures to address emerging issues such as transnational crimes, energy crisis, climate change, digitalization, cyber security, and future pandemic. Moreover, core elements that would strengthen ASEAN as an open, inclusive, rules-based community, and enhance external relations that strictly adhere to ASEAN Centrality and complementarity on the development agenda of sub-region groups including the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) may be required to include in the post-2025 vision.

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