PM to prioritise Asean connectivity
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PM to prioritise Asean connectivity

Prayut talks of nation's role as bloc's new chair

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha delivers his speech to the Asean Business and Investment Summit on the sidelines of the 33rd Asean Summit and Related Meetings in Singapore on Tuesday. (AFP photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha delivers his speech to the Asean Business and Investment Summit on the sidelines of the 33rd Asean Summit and Related Meetings in Singapore on Tuesday. (AFP photo)

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha vowed Tuesday to push for greater Asean connectivity while highlighting Thailand's efforts to ease regulatory processes that could impede the digital and innovation economy to attract businesses and investors.

He was speaking in Singapore at the Asean Business and Investment Summit 2018, ahead of the opening of the 33rd Asean Summit. Asean is currently chaired by Singapore but Thailand will take over in January, which the Thai premier described as a "great honour".

"I promise to continue pushing for more connectivity for Asean, in both the public and private sectors, to strengthen businesses and investment so Asean can become an outstanding destination for businesspeople and investors worldwide," he said.

Asean's dynamic nature would help foster the sustainable growth of a people-centric global economy where no one gets left behind, he added.

In 2017, the bloc saw trade jump 14.1% to hit US$2.6 trillion. Of this total, 22.9% was among Asean members, Gen Prayut said.

"Foreign direct investment [FDI] in Asean in 2017 grew 11.6% [and] to be worth $137 billion. Of this, 19.4% came from within [Asean]. We can say Asean is the biggest investor in this region," he said.

"These statistics are just one indicator showing [Asean's] economic potential as well as the confidence the business community and investors have toward the bloc," he said, citing the economic climate, globally standardised regulations, and more connectivity as the key factors.

Thailand has also adopted a so-called "Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025: MPAC 2025", which focuses on sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory excellence and people's enhanced mobility for the development, dubbed Seamless Asean.

The regional bloc is also pushing for closer ties to the sub-region and other regions.

Thailand is expediting the regulatory guillotine to change the complexity of required procedures in doing business, he said.

"Currently we have over 700,000 handbooks related to licence requests, both in the central and local areas," he said.

"We aim to reduce the number of licences and handbooks as much as possible. At this stage, we expect to reduce the number to not more than 2,000-3,000, mainly those issued by the central [government]," he said.

He said a new electronic system for customs would help promote Asean's goal of doubling regional trade by reducing costs by 10% by 2020.

Thailand is working on going digital and eyeing amendments to legislation including the electronics transaction law, data protection law and cybersecurity law, he said. It is also building platforms for digital IDs and a one-stop immigration service system, he added.

He said Thailand has invested in wiring the country, supporting SMEs and startups, and promoting digital innovation as part of its Thailand 4.0 strategy.

Some US$93 billion has been set aside to develop infrastructure and logistics, especially in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in three provinces east of Bangkok, to better link the region up, the premier said. Examples include new high-speed trains and railways, the expansion of deep-sea ports and the development of domestic airports and a new aviation centre.

David Walker, the managing director of Berlanga Group, which does business in Myanmar, received Gen Prayut's comments positively. He said that promoting science, technology and innovation was crucial, as was bringing internet connectivity to rural areas.

"Thailand has been very stable [lately], as far as I can see. And for business people, that's very good," he said. "I hope the [February 2019] elections go well. The people and the country will benefit from the general stability."

A senior banker from Japan, who asked not to be named, said he was familiar with Gen Prayut's ideas but questioned why the Thai leader had failed to speak about policy continuity or stability next year -- important information investors are more keen to know about.

Attending the Asean Summit and related meetings are leaders from 18 countries that are members of the East Asia Summit (EAS). Members comprise the 10 Asean nations and Asean dialogue partners Russia and the US.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Vice President Mike Pence, Chinese PM Li Keqiang and Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi have been representing their respective countries at the summit.

Singapore invited Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the G7 chair, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera -- Chile chairs the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation -- and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Other issues to be raised include the development of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade pact, a code of conduct for disputed areas in the South China Sea, Myanmar's Rakhine State and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The Asean handover ceremony will take place tomorrow.

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