The SEANET team met with Syed Nabil, the Secretary-General of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Malaysia, a few weeks ago. He shared his perspective on ASEAN related issues, with a particular focus on the business environment of the region.
Mr Nabil strongly echoed the views of SEANET on property rights, saying that “from the business perspective, it should be something that is emphasized”. He noted that “the situation is especially acute in ASEAN, where there are limited regulations regarding Intellectual Property (IP) protection in many areas”.
This lack of emphasis on property rights protection often leads individuals and companies to worry about releasing their products in the marketplace, as they cannot guarantee whether their product or IP is protected. Such concerns hamper the development of entrepreneurship and innovation within the ASEAN region, which in turn hinders economic growth. Mr Nabil also spoke about the imperative to actively promote entrepreneurship, explaining that “facilities must be set up for entrepreneurs to be able to market their products more easily across the region”.
Inclusive growth and sustainable development
There was also a discussion on inclusive growth and the role of sustainable development within the ASEAN region. Mr Nabil raised issues about the use of energy, particularly the role of green technology, long term infrastructure and transportation. He noted that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) within the region have done very well over the last 15 years in regards to total output and total trade for ASEAN. He also argued that while economic development ought to be the primary goal of ASEAN nations, it must also have a ‘people-centric focus’.
Freer movement of labour, goods and capital
According to Mr Nabil, the free movement of skilled labor in ASEAN is constrained in part due to “language barriers, a lack of understanding of the domestic environment and differences in policies and regulations”.
We asked Mr Nabil whether he envisioned ASEAN to be like the EU, where there is free movement of labour on a single passport. He explained that the “EU provides an example of errors in implementing labour mobility policies” and that ASEAN stands a greater chance of success, since “ASEAN works on consensus, with no enforcement commission or a regional parliament and legal system”.
Other issues facing regional SME’s and ASEAN
Other issues that face SMEs include “access to finance, access to market information and access to technology.” In the finance sector “bank and financial institution integration within ASEAN has not been seamless”. Banks within ASEAN have to “recognize cross border collateral (which is not the case), as businesses that do not have an established track record can find it difficult to expand” when starting over in the new country. This is something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Access to market information and access to technology is also crucial for integration within the ASEAN region. A big factor that stunts economic growth in the region is that “the information infrastructure within ASEAN is still underdeveloped” with “ICT penetration in ASEAN region remaining poor”. He made the point that ICT is key enabler for greater integration of ASEAN, especially since it’s a region which houses 260 million internet users.
Mr Nabil concluded by noting that he has great hopes for ASEAN, and noted that it is a region with tremendous potential. He also made the point that Malaysia, which is the chair of ASEAN this year, “has natural resources, industrialization, high value industries, rapid urbanization, high literacy rates and a good public and private education systems”. By capitalizing on this, Malaysia can be a leader within ASEAN and help promote a more prosperous and inclusive ASEAN in the years to come.
Tuan Syed Nabil Aljeffri is the Secretary-General of ASEAN-Business Advisory Council