Asean pressed to oppose trade war

Asean pressed to oppose trade war

Private sector says bloc's leaders must speak with one voice in support of economic peace

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha presides over the opening ceremony of the 51st Asean Economic Ministers' Meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok on Friday.
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha presides over the opening ceremony of the 51st Asean Economic Ministers' Meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok on Friday.

Southeast Asia's private sector has called on Asean heads of state and governments to make a collective statement for world economic peace as the simmering trade war threatens the global economy.

Arin Jira, chairman of the Asean Business Advisory Council (Asean BAC), said the unabated trade row between China and the US has sent the world economy into turmoil.

"As Asean was founded 52 years ago, the Asean governments need to have a stronger collective political leadership to stop the trade war and bring back world economic peace," Mr Arin said yesterday on the sidelines of the five-day Asean Economic Ministers' Meeting (AEM) that started in Bangkok. "We don't think the Asean bloc will benefit from the trade war, because in the long term the US may come up with other protectionist measures."

He said the heightened trade row has already affected trade and investment worldwide and increased the risk of a global recession.

"The Asean voice will stimulate other countries in the world and other economic regions to follow the Asean stance and resist the trade war between the two big economies," Mr Arin said.

He said the Asean BAC will propose closer collaboration between the government and the private sector to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution.

Asean needs to rev up human resource development to cope with changes in manufacturing from the proliferation of digital technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, Mr Arin said. With labourers in the region possibly losing their jobs, Asean governments must have measures in place to upskill and reskill labourers.

More R&D and higher investment in digital infrastructure are essential, Mr Arin said, as well as more assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises to prepare for digital trade platforms.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who presided over the opening ceremony of the AEM on Friday, said Asean must be ready to move forward together with modern technology, including artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, biotechnology and genetic engineering, and create a supportive environment for the digital economy and intelligent industries through human resource development, small entrepreneurs and knowledge of technology and innovation.

Amid the current trend of global trade challenges, Asean must have a "partnership" to strengthen connections within and beyond the region, Gen Prayut said.

"It's the right time to push for negotiations to establish the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is in the final round of this year's negotiations," he said. "This will demonstrate the confidence of Asean and dialogue partners in linking trade and investment systems by adhering to a multilateral trading system that adheres to rules and regulations."

Gen Prayut also urged Asean to protect the environment and natural resources by promoting sustainability and linkages such as fisheries and R&D in renewable energy.

Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said the AEM will mostly discuss the acceleration of the import tax reduction to 0% for all items among Asean countries after the talks were subject to a delay from the original deadline in 2017.

Asean economic ministers will also talk with RCEP ministers to reduce differences over the RCEP so that the talks can conclude before the Asean summit meeting to be held in November, Mr Jurin said.

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