World Economy

ASEAN to Help SMEs

ASEAN to Help SMEsASEAN to Help SMEs

The two-day World Economic Forum for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations kicks off in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, with heads of state from ASEAN member countries, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia slated to attend.

Helping small and medium-sized enterprises reap the benefits of regional integration, removing non-tariff barriers, driving new businesses and encouraging sustainable growth are the key priorities under the ASEAN Economic Community 2025 Blueprint, Channel NewsAsia reported.

Speaking at ASEAN Conference 2016 on Tuesday, Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang outlined efforts that the economic grouping will focus on to implement outstanding measures and to deepen cross border relations.

He said upcoming initiatives like the ASEAN Single Window and Self Certification Scheme will enable faster clearance and help reduce transaction time and costs for businesses.

Lim also cited non-tariff barriers that ASEAN will seek to eliminate, ranging from cumbersome import licensing procedures to other import and export requirements, so that “businesses can operate in a transparent, stable and predictable environment”.

The minister added that the AEC 2025 Blueprint will also address new areas relevant to the needs of modern business, and will look for ways to facilitate e-commerce and other emerging trends in manufacturing.

  622m Market

As of end-December 2015, ASEAN completed 93% of high priority measures in the AEC 2015 Blueprint, said Lim. Work to implement the rest of AEC 2015 Blueprint measures will continue this year, he added.

The ASEAN Economic Community brings together a market worth over $2.6 trillion, and the region has a population of more than 622 million people.

“Tackling the impact of drought in Southeast Asia is not on the WEF agenda and needs to be addressed at ASEAN ministerial meetings to galvanize an ASEAN policy response,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Global Insight, in an e-mail to CNBC.

The weather phenomenon known as El Nino has created a crippling heat wave and water shortages across the region, with temperatures hitting well above 40 degrees Celsius. That threatens dire economic losses for the ASEAN countries, with rice output plummeting in top producers Thailand and Vietnam, which has seen around 230,000 hectares of rice ruined so far this year, Reuters reported.

As a result of the drought, the International Grains Council estimates a 9% drop in global rice stocks to 473 million tons this year, from 479 million tons in 2015.