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Partnership for the Future. Op-ed by Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG


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Mon, 23 Nov. 2020

The UK is making greater efforts than ever before to deepen its relationship with Southeast Asia. A region of over 650 million people it will be the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2030. A stronger, enhanced partnership would bring significant benefits for both the UK and ASEAN, and the UK-ASEAN Business Council (UKABC) aims to be at the heart of this flourishing trading and investment nexus.

During the ASEAN Summit week, UKABC, together with the Department for International Trade (DIT), demonstrated its support by co-hosting the inaugural ASEAN-UK Business Forum with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council. Held virtually, it was a coming together of senior government and business figures from both the UK and ASEAN to identify digital means of thriving in the new normal – and to understand what this new normal is. The Asian Development Bank forecasts that ASEAN will bounce back from the crisis strongly in 2021 with growth of 5%. This would be a stronger economic recovery than that expected for any other region.

The Rt. Hon Greg Hands MP, DIT’s Minister for Trade Policy, highlighted in the panel that I Chaired the strong UK offer to ASEAN. In particular, he noted the UK’s capability in digital and renewables and as a partner for building better and greener. ASEAN is echoing this and looking to the UK for collaboration in climate change, fintech and sustainable development as Vietnam’s Vice Minister of Industry and Trade, Tran Quoc Khanh, said in his keynote address.

Over the last ten years, the UK’s trade with ASEAN has grown over 70% to just under £42billion in 2019 – greater than our trade with India and Brazil combined. With the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by 15 countries at the ASEAN Summit last week – one of the world’s largest free trade pacts –  Southeast Asia’s economic growth is expected to accelerate even faster offering greater opportunities for UK business. It is a region the UK business community must not ignore.

Our engagement during the Summit week went further, and I was delighted to Chair the panel discussion on ASEAN’s resilient, sustainable and inclusive growth at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. In the session, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of Thailand highlighted that we should look to technology and innovation to not only help in  Covid-19 recovery efforts but in building a Digital ASEAN that narrows the development gap and works towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The messages coming out of last week were clear. Digital solutions and partnerships are needed, and welcomed, to help Southeast Asia recover and thrive in a manner that provides prosperity for all while protecting our planet.  Next year, as the UK hosts COP26, we must seize the opportunity to weave sustainability across all our discussions and support ASEAN’s ambitions for a greener future.

I congratulate Vietnam for a highly successful ASEAN Summit and in particular, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry for hosting the globally watched ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. We, at the UK-ASEAN Business Council, look forward to building on this year’s achievements and supporting Brunei’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2021.


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