The 2011 ASEAN Business and Investment Summit: What to Expect?

Pura Ulun Danau Bratan

The 2011 ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ASEAN-BIS) in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia will be officially opened tomorrow.  The summit which is part of the ASEAN summits and will be attended by world leaders including the US’ president Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard would likely attract attention from media, business communities, experts in economics, sociology, politics and other fields. Indonesia’s arrangement to ensure that the Summit can only be attended by those who have ‘goodwill’  (read: ‘berkepentingan‘) is another point of interest. Four F16 jetfighters, three warships and 600 naval officers are ready to secure Bali. What should we expect from the summit?

Programs and speakers at the summit can be easily found from its website. Summarising the summit’s programs, some key questions and issues expected to be the centre of discussion at the ASEAN – BIS include:

  • How do we capitalize on current strengths and continue to expand regional economic, financial and trade cooperation to manage and avert future risks?” with Gita Wirjawan, Minister of Trade of Republic of Indonesia sitting among the panelists.
  • Challenges from climate change and the role of private sectors in dealing with these challenges;
  • The Master Plan of ASEAN Connectivity and ASEAN Infrastructure Fund with a key question “Is the private sector happy about these?” (In case you never heard of these terms before see here for the master plan. Note that it’s a 91-page document. See here for further information about ASEAN Infrastructure Fund with an initial equity contribution of US$485.2 million, of which US$335.2 million is from ASEAN and the remaining US$150 million is from the ADB. The Fund is said to provide “greater access to energy, clean water and sanitation, and better forms of transportation” to the ASEAN population);
  • How to promote entrepreneurship and innovation?” – The newly appointed Minister of Tourism and A Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu will also give a keynote speech on November 17, 2011. It is most likely that innovation will also be part of her address.
  • ASEAN’s bilateral relationships with its major partners including Republic of Korea, the US, Australia, Japan, India and Brazil.

Have the above aspects pretty much covered your expectations?

The ASEAN – BIS’ scheduled discussions suggest a forward-looking agenda that the ASEAN is currently having. Sustainability, innovation and global as well as regional commitments are some of the keywords defining such an agenda.

However, looking at an earlies post we may recall that ‘people-centred ASEAN’ seems to be the message that an earlier ASEAN summit aimed to spread.  We thought we aimed to see more involvement of NGOs and ‘people on the street’. The characteristics of speakers who mostly represent large companies raise some concerns.

Statistics suggests that Southeast Asian countries are not all about large companies. It is fair to say that Small- and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the region. According to Wattanapruttipaisan (2003), SMEs account for 90% of all non-agriculture firms in most parts of ASEAN and employ 75-90% of the domestic workforce. Unfortunately, they only contribute 20-30% to gross sales value or manufacturing value added and 10-20% to export earnings in the region. These statistics highlight some room for improvement.

Large companies might well-define what it means by “business communities”. They might also have excellent Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs which benefit small businesses. But, people may want to hear cooperatives’, not-for-profit local indigenous organisations’ and SMEs’ success stories too. For example, how such businesses build up regional trade networks? Those stories can be more easily replicated by other small businesses compared to learning from Google  for example.

Obviously, various issues are inter-related and the above issues that will be discussed at the ASEAN – BIS are pretty broad ones. The above concerns might actually have been included in the speakers’ agenda. Moreover, we do not know what the exact points or issues that each panelist will present and discuss at the meetings.

Let’s just hope for the best and the ASEAN – BIS will yield outcomes that not only benefit large companies but also SMEs. Given the ASEAN’s commitment to involve people in its progress, it is also important to think about how to effectively communicate the outcomes to ‘people on the street’.

This article is prepared by Risti Permani.


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Filed under ASEAN, Climate change and environment, Conference, East Asia, Economic development, Economic Integration, Food and agriculture, Indonesia, Infrastructure, Investment, Trade

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