Dec 7, 2012

ASEAN - Asean integration remains a pipe dream: forum

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The business community attending the Asean 100 Leadership Forum in Myanmar said yesterday that while the Asean economic integration is moving in the right direction, it is nowhere close to being seamlessly integrated.

"The Asean integration is moving in the right direction, it is probably not moving as fast as many people would like and there are various reasons for that, but it is also continuously moving in the right direction," said Heinrich Jessen, chairman of Singapore-based Jebsen and Jessen Group.

"It is definitely too slow, we are not moving fast enough in terms of creating a platform for a truly Asean-based business, we are truly lacking from a branding perspective and we don't really have a world-class Asean brand, probably a few Asean brands but that's mainly country driven," said Sandiaga Uno, founding partner and chief executive officer of Saratoga Capital.

Idris Vasi, chief executive officer of the DST Group in Brunei, said that "doing business across the Asean countries is not seamless", in terms of economic and taxation policies, among others.

"It is all on a country by country basis, and ... a lot of this integration needs to be done bilaterally rather than Asean-wide," he said.

With the 2015 deadline of having Asean economically integrated drawing close, entrepreneurs need to take the lead, according to Uno. "We should not point fingers to the government as they are too busy with politics in other parts of Asean, and [the Asean 100] is a really good example of bringing entrepreneurs together to think about what we can really do," he said.

He warned that the slow pace of the regional integration could lead other countries outside the Asean to seize the market. "We need to move fast and the entrepreneurial spirit is there, but the economic system needs to be quickly integrated and needs to be improved."

In his keynote address, Nazrin Shah, Crown Prince of the State of Perak in Malaysia, said that the Asean Secretariat lacked resources to carry out regional integration.

Jessen agreed, adding that he thought that the Asean secretariat was "underfunded and understaffed".

"Even when the political will is there, and with the objectives set by Asean being very good and specific ... it requires hoarders of bureaucrats to take these objectives and implement them at a national level and go through all the various laws in each country to make sure that they are updated and that they are catered to the Asean objectives," said Jessen.

"I don't think the objective that is being set for 2015 will all be achieved by 2015, but that's fine, I'm not too worried about that as long as the direction is the same," he said.

Vasi, on his part, said that many of the negotiations in Asean happen on a bilateral level rather than on a regional level.

"If a Bruneian company wants to do business in Malaysia or Indonesia for example, the challenges would be different... Asean doesn't come into play so much so it's more bilateral," he said.

Jessen said that the key to integrating correctly is dialogue and network.

"It is the young entrepreneurs and the young politicians that are meeting at this forum, and in due course will be doing business together, and they need their networks to press the right pressure buttons in the individual governments, so that they understand the day-to-day business challenges that the businesses have who are operating within Asean and to do so across borders."

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