AEC: Visions of Asia’s future

Roberto Scaramuzza - Linkedin profile

Roberto Scaramuzza – Linkedin profile

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Top business leaders reveal opportunities and the challenges for a global economy driven by Asia

Asian business leaders attending a recent forum voiced their belief that Asia will drive the global economy of the future, with the 2015 launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) expected to present huge economic opportunities for businesses both within the group’s 10 member countries and beyond.

However, with so many diverse cultures, rules and regulations, a number of obstacles will have to be overcome if the region’s economies are to be integrated into a single market, they said. In particular, social inequality, local administration, governance and a number of other key issues will have to be addressed.

In forum in Bangkok titled “Asia Driving the World: How leading ASEAN CEOs see the future of the fastest-growing region and beyond”, during the morning session of  “Business Visions 2020”, high-profile executives from all over the region shared their ideas on business perspectives, trends and the opportunities that lie head once the AEC begins in 2015.

Kyoichi Tanada, managing officer of Toyota Motor Corporation, and president of Toyota Motor Thailand, said Toyota had confidence in the Asian market because of its importance as a production base. Last year, a total of 82 million Toyota cars were sold worldwide, 41 per cent of that in Asia. Thailand and Indonesia are among the firm’s top five markets.

Kyoichi added that sustainable human-resources development and hybrid-energy technology would be important focuses for the company.

Chartsiri Sophonpanich, president of Bangkok Bank, said the AEC would become a global business hub because of the Asian highway connecting the southern provinces of China to Singapore; the east-west economic corridor from India to Vietnam; and the sophisticated regional air transport networks. “2020 is not far off. The business landscape will have changed by then, so we need to prepare,” Chartsiri said, adding that domestic consumers were becoming more technology-savvy, thus companies must adapt and be more flexible.

Timothy Ong Teck Mong, chairman of Asia Inc Forum of Brunei, said there was no doubt Asia was on the rise, but questions needed to be asked about growth quality, sustainability and governance.

He added that with different rules and regulations in each country there would be big challenges in integrating Asean’s 10 members into a single market. For example, getting construction permits in Singapore took about 26 days; 110 days in Vietnam; and 652 days in Cambodia. In addition, applications for business start-ups in Singapore took three days; 47 days in Jakarta; and 101 days in Brunei and Indonesia.

More importantly, he said, the gap between Asean’s poorest and its wealthiest citizens, measured in terms of per-capita GDP, was huge – a factor of almost 16, compared to a factor of just two in the European Union.

Ngo Thanh Tung, chairman of Vietnam International Law Firm, said the business sector in Vietnam needed to adopt a more open mindset for sustainable growth. “Our young businessmen are looking for win-win business, more capital, new supporting technology and cooperation from neighbouring countries,” he said.

Meanwhile, Paul Blanche-Horgan, chief executive officer at Ezecom Corp from Cambodia, said he had witnessed a lot of change, including new construction, urbanisation and progress in education sector. These factors would also create better circumstance for business.

After opening its doors to the world, Myanmar is now reforming its political and economic systems, said U Zaw Zaw, chairman of Max Myanmar Group. He said his country is trying to re-brand to be a destination both for international visitors and investors. “What needs to be done is that the government should stress education to [develop] quality workers and to solve the labour issue to meet market demand and economic growth.

“Is the political reform in Myanmar reversible?” asked Suthichai Yoon, Nation Multimedia Group chairman and the seminar’s moderator.

The Max Myanmar chairman replied that he believed his country would continue to move forward. Also, business leaders agreed that other key factors for continued growth include good governance in both the corporate and state sectors, and social responsibility among Asian entrepreneurs to ensure that all members of society benefit.