A BREW OF celebration, bonhomie and optimism is echoed in the views of the region’s business leaders, who have founded some of Asean’s leading houses and institutions.
The 10 countries of this region of 628 million people boast a gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion (Bt82.75 trillion) and trade in excess of $2.6 trillion, while attracting foreign direct investment of around $140 billion a year.
All this in a span of five decades, despite being separated by boundaries, resources, terrain, people, governments, customs and languages, in a list that seems endless.
Overall, progress has not been uniform and there are wide disparities in per capita income, while the challenges – not least of which was wrought by the advance of digital technology – seem phenomenal.
But distances are being bridged, infrastructure is being built and perhaps a deep desire to grow beyond boundaries has been deeply rooted, which could well turn into reality.
Projections are for Asean to become the world’s fourth-largest economy, after the European Union, United States and China, by 2030.
In this report, we bring you the views and plans of 25 enterprising businesses in this region.
United Overseas Bank, in its 80-year history, has witnessed Asean’s development from the very beginning, and is a believer too.
Deputy chairman and chief executive officer Wee Ee Cheong said regional blocs are out of fashion these days. Asean is turning 50 at a time of rising nationalistic sentiment and policies.
However, the bank remains deeply committed to the region and believes much more potential remains to be tapped.
After all, Asean’s growth outpaces that of the EU and the US.
This growth presents immense opportunities for business, trade and investment.
“The region’s collective potential is underpinned by strong fundamentals such as a young and vibrant workforce, a growing middle class and increasing intraregional trade flows,” Wee said.
For this future to come to fruition, connectivity will be key, he said.
Asean has long been a trade-driven economic bloc.
Its members bring to the table a wide range of comparative advantages such as low-cost labour, abundant natural resources and close intra-Asean governmental relationships.
The new Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025 adopted a year ago will help, as it encourages further development of the region’s infrastructure, logistics, innovations, regulations and people mobility.
UOB’s Foreign Direct Investment Advisory team, which was set up in 2011, has been connecting companies within Asean and beyond in China, Japan and Europe to business, trade and investment opportunities in the region.
Last year, the team facilitated more than $27 billion of business flows to Southeast Asia’s industries such as fast-moving consumer goods, natural resources, and building and construction.
“Being able to support our customers as they seize these opportunities is one of the reasons we continue to deepen our presence in key Asean markets, such as in the frontier markets of Myanmar and Vietnam,” he said.
UOB also recently became the first Singapore bank to receive an in-principle forign-owned subsidiary bank licence in Vietnam.
While the economy in the 20th century was driven by goods and services, the 21st century is being driven by digital technology and data, which can be effective enablers of inclusive and sustainable growth.
“The successful adoption of digital technology and data – from individuals and businesses to industries and economies – in the face of potential disruption will help equip and prepare Asean for the opportunities of the future,” he said.
Infrastructure development is another area that will fuel growth.
“Large-scale infrastructure projects such as the trans-Asian railway are connecting Asean to new opportunities.
“The economic benefits brought about by these projects will be enormous and will help to reinforce Asean’s role in global manufacturing and supply chains.”
UOB has facilitated infrastructure development in Asean by, for example, financing the construction of gas-fired power plants and telecommunications towers in Myanmar and investing in one of Vietnam’s largest privately-owned hydropower companies, Bitexco Power Corporation.
“Over the past five decades, the 10 Asean member countries have demonstrated the pragmatism of their approach to stability, growth and development through unity in diversity,” he said.
“UOB, with its deep roots in the region, remains very positive about the benefits that a strong, cohesive and prepared Asean will bring to individuals, businesses and industries,” he added.