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2nd Indo-Pacific Business Forum November 2019, Bangkok, Thailand

          The Indo-Pacific is an economically thriving region whose potential has attracted investors from across the globe. In recognition of the vast business opportunities available, Thailand and the United States joined hands in organising the 2nd Indo-Pacific Business Forum (IPBF) on 4 November 2019, on the sidelines of the 35th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Bangkok and Nonthaburi.

          The Forum was timely as ASEAN Leaders had just adopted the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific at the 34th ASEAN Summit earlier this year, highlighting ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN principle of inclusive cooperation. Panelists at the Forum discussed the challenges and opportunities in promoting trade, investment, and economic cooperation in the region. They also acknowledged that digital and energy infrastructure are crucial elements for sustainable development in this age of rapid technological advancements.

 

          One of the key messages came from Wilbur Ross, the United States Secretary of Commerce, who reaffirmed the commitment of the United States’ administration to the Indo-Pacific region. He cited that the United States is the largest investor in Southeast Asia with an accumulated investment of USD 271 billion. Furthermore, the trade volume between the United States and the Indo-Pacific is higher than the United States’ trade with South America or the European Union.

          Looking forward, panelists see the Indo-Pacific as a region in transformation towards becoming a full-fledged digital economy where every country should be prepared to reap benefits from next generation technology such as 5G network. In this regard, stakeholders need to cooperate closely in strengthening a system that ensures accountability and efficiency in addressing concerns that arise with digital technology, such as online data protection and cybersecurity.

          Besides digital economy, the Forum viewed energy sustainability as another essential factor in shaping regional development. The Indo-Pacific region accounts for about 60 percent of global energy consumption. Diversifying fuel supply will help meet this demand. At present, countries are promoting the use and research on renewable energy sources that are more affordable, reliable, and cleaner, in comparison to the use of traditional energy resources such as coal and fossil fuels. The Forum took note of the financial and regulatory constraints on energy sustainability, as well as new initiatives to strengthen these efforts, such as the United States’ Asia EDGE Initiative to build and secure energy markets throughout the Indo-Pacific.

 

          It was recognised that the challenge in realising all these digital, energy and infrastructure projects is financing. In this regard, the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has compiled a list of over 70 potential bankable projects in the Indo-Pacific for the convenience of the private sector in considering the feasibility of forming public-private partnerships (PPP). Furthermore, Australia, Japan and the United States, jointly launched the Blue Dot Network to facilitate funding for high quality infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. This initiative will complement existing regional connectivity cooperation, such as the ACMECS Master Plan and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. Drawing more financial tools into the region to help expand growth and connectivity in the region is crucial and the joint initiative by the United States and Japan was warmly welcomed by the participants of the Forum.

          The ongoing dynamics in the Indo-Pacific offers vast economic opportunities for ASEAN member states and their partners beyond the region. Overlapping areas of cooperation among various regional frameworks and groupings that co-exist with the Indo-Pacific, can work to strengthen efficiency in achieving inclusive and sustainable growth. Particularly, as ASEAN maintains its leading role at the core of such frameworks, navigating and synergizing complementarities, to ensure that, people from all walks of life in the region, truly benefit from such efforts, leaving no one behind.

 

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