How has Covid-19 shaped Economic and Trade Policies in Asia
The eight Stratagem Group – Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Sino-Singapore Dialogue held on 25 September 2020, themed “How has Covid-19 shaped economic and trade policies in Asia”, invited international speakers from China, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore to share their perspectives on how countries and businesses alike can re-think their economic strategy in order to carve out a more resilient future. The event was well received with more than 260 registered participants from across multiple industries and countries from the region.
In his opening address, Prof Liu Hong, Director of Nanyang Centre for Public Administration, highlighted that economic downturns are inevitable and a sharp decline in regional economic growth is also expected in 2020. On the positive side, some economies in East Asia like China, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, among others, have offered hope because of their success in containing the coronavirus outbreak through immediate healthcare responses and tight lockdown measures. But, as the pandemic unfolds globally, the global economy in 2021 will be beset by uncertainties. Uncertainty within the global economy would also adversely affect the extent of economic recovery in the region. In light of this uncertain and volatile situation, it is of great importance to examine how Covid-19 has shaped and will shape economic and trade policies in Asia. It is time to re-think regional and national strategies to tackle the challenges and strive for an economic recovery in the region.
Mr Douglas Foo, President, Singapore Manufacturing Federation and Vice Chairman, Singapore Business Federation highlighted that COVID-19 has demonstrated how vulnerable our global supply chains can be to any sort of disruption, be it political, economic or human. Business of all sizes and complexity need to take time to fully understand the risks inherent and consider how they can respond decisively and proportionately if disruption emerges in their supply chain. Today, businesses need to ask some critical questions of their own supply chains and while some may seem obvious, getting clear answers can often prove challenging.
Mr Wu Chuan, Deputy Director General, Hainan Provincial Bureau of International Economic Development, China, pointed out that for China, Covid-19 is but a series of global challenges that China is currently facing. Mr Wu stated that all things considered, China has handled the Covid-19 pandemic in an exemplary manner and it is now shifting its focus to fostering international cooperation in tackling the economic challenges ahead. Mr Wu echoed Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech at the recent UN address, calling for mutual respect and increased multilateral cooperation between nations. Their people-centered and collaborative approach is demonstrated clearly in China’s Belt and Road Initiative where it strives to bring benefits to all countries involved.
Prof Pham Thi Hong Yen, Director, International Cooperation Department, Vietnam Cooperative Alliances shared that the biggest challenge to the Vietnamese economy was on the international trade front. With Vietnam’s increasing role in the global supply chain, it has inherently removed some of its buffers and flexibility to absorb disruption. COVID-19 illustrates that many companies are not fully aware of the vulnerability of their supply chain relationships to global shocks and in this aspect, Vietnam has also felt the economic shock as a result of the pandemic. While qualifying that the ASEAN bloc is fragmented by nature of its demographics, culture, and language, she still shared her beliefs that as long as stakeholders from the different countries adopt a rules-based and cooperative mindset, the region would be able to overcome differences to foster mutual cooperation and economic progress in ASEAN.
Mr Nuttaporn Voonklinhom, President, The Digital Trade Association Thailand, shared his belief that Thailand is well placed to facilitate increased economic cooperation within the region as a result of its strategic geo-location. Mr Nuttaporn espoused his belief that technology will become increasingly important in the face of multi-faceted disruptions across all industries. Technology has the potential to serve as the bridge across industries and also along the full value chain within industries and encouraged businesses to capitalize on this market disruption to transform their business models to better incorporate technology and digital best practices.
In his closing speech, Mr Goh Kong Yong, Managing Director of Stratagem Group, highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis presents the greatest challenge in a decade for multiple industries. He stressed that it is critical for countries and businesses to adapt and evolve quickly to ensure their economic survival in these dynamic times. Even as the uncertainties of the COVID-19 crisis multiply, the goal must be to rebuild for the longer term even as we await the development of a vaccine. In the face of increasing protectionism exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Goh challenged regional stakeholders to establish strategic partnerships with the right partners to navigate the road to recovery. He hopes that with increased regional collaboration and an opportunistic approach, ASEAN stakeholders can ensure that they would emerge from this pandemic in a stronger position prior to the crisis.