Keynote Address by MOS Alvin Tan at the 36th ASEAN Roundtable

Keynote Address by MOS Alvin Tan at the 36th ASEAN Roundtable



1. A very good morning to our distinguished speakers and Roundtable panellists, and to all the viewers who have joined us via Zoom this morning. I am excited today to be here to deliver the keynote speech at the 36th ASEAN Roundtable.


2. This year’s theme is Braving the Storms: ASEAN in Crisis Mode. Indeed, it has been a difficult time for us all, with COVID-19 posing new and unforeseen challenges to countries all over the world. The ASEAN region is no exception, as we grapple with not just the current global public health crisis, but also with fundamental shifts in the international order and our place in it.


Current Geopolitical Developments


3. In the past few years, we’ve seen rapid shifts in the global geopolitical landscape, with new partnerships formed, old alliances renewed, and increased concerns of greater polarization.


4. Relations between the US and China have become tense, with reverberations across the region. Amidst the uncertainty, there has been an increased global focus on the Asia-Pacific region, including ASEAN. Notwithstanding these tensions, in recent years, ASEAN’s volume of trade flows with both the US and China have increased. Amidst the pandemic, China and the US were ASEAN’s largest and second-largest trading partners in 2020, with two-way merchandise trade growing by 1.8% and 4.6% respectively. The US and China are also stepping up their engagements with the region, with both US and Chinese senior officials visiting ASEAN countries recently and seeking to strengthen cooperation in economic, digital, public health and other spheres. ASEAN has constructive and positive relationships with the US, China and other partners. We will always welcome engagement with all stakeholders and hope that our partners will continue to contribute constructively to the peace and stability of the region and complement the existing ASEAN-centric regional architecture.


5. As we continue to face an uncertain international geopolitical environment and an evolving geopolitical landscape with the emergence of new arrangements, ASEAN Centrality and unity continues to be key, to safeguard our autonomy and ability to make decisions in our best interests. ASEAN Member States must work together to maintain ASEAN Centrality and unity in the region and preserve our autonomy to collaborate with our partners outside ASEAN.


ASEAN Strategies for Post-Pandemic Recovery


6. Amidst the dynamically changing geopolitical backdrop, regional cooperation is critical to address one of ASEAN’s most pressing concerns, which is the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The immediate public health impact of the disease and the economic implications continue to unfold and affect our people and economies.


7. ASEAN has banded together to promote recovery and emerge stronger from the pandemic. Last year, we launched the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, which focuses the region’s post-pandemic recovery efforts on five broad areas of enhancing public health, human security, regional economic integration, inclusive digital transformation and sustainability. ASEAN’s partners have also expressed commitment to supporting its implementation and bolstering regional post-pandemic recovery.


8. To cite another example of our cooperation, at the height of the pandemic last year, ASEAN and its FTA partners signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. The RCEP is the world’s largest FTA, comprising 30% of global GDP and a third of the world’s population. Singapore and our RCEP Partners are working towards the entry into force of RCEP by early 2022. When implemented, it will strengthen ASEAN’s economic ties with the broader region. These efforts speak to the importance of working together for post-pandemic recovery through further integration of our economies.


Long-term economic transformation


9. However, ASEAN is also looking beyond crisis mode towards longer-term resilience. Beyond the short-term disruptions, ASEAN is also actively seeking to harness the benefits from global megatrends. Let me name three.


10. First, digitalisation has increased exponentially during the pandemic. There were 40 million new Internet users last year, resulting in 70% of the region’s population now being online. [1] The use of e-commerce has become a key channel for businesses to seek new growth opportunities and for consumers to better access digital services. The industry is set to grow further. By 2025, e-commerce in the region is expected to expand by 23% to US$172 billion from US$62 billion in 2020.[2] It will be important for ASEAN to leverage this momentum to promote an equitable and inclusive economic recovery.


11. To that end, the ASEAN Economic Ministers recently adopted the Bandar Seri Begawan Roadmap[3] on digital transformation, which highlights key needle-moving initiatives towards a single digital economy in ASEAN. As part of this Roadmap, ASEAN has agreed to start negotiations on an ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement by 2025. This will promote the seamless and secure flow of goods, services and data in the region, underpinned by enabling rules, regulations, infrastructure and talent.


12. Second, the pandemic has accelerated long-term shifts in supply chains. Businesses are increasingly pursuing resilience in supply chains, on top of efficiency considerations. In a region closely connected by value chains, ASEAN is striving to strengthen our value proposition as a regional production and manufacturing hub. We are enhancing efforts to promote trade facilitation within the region, including by addressing non-tariff measures and expanding the ASEAN Single Window through link-ups with our FTA partners.


13. Third, ASEAN is embarking on the transition towards a green recovery. We recently finalised the Framework for Circular Economy for the ASEAN Economic Community, which outlines the region’s strategic commitment to sustainable development. The Framework will galvanise the implementation of concrete initiatives towards sustainable and inclusive growth for our people, economies and societies. One such initiative is the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility[4], or the ACGF, which provides loans and technical assistance for green, bankable infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia. In March 2021, ACGF, with financing support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Green Climate Fund (GCF), launched the Green Recovery Programme. The Programme will support over 20 green infrastructure projects worth more than US$4 billion across Southeast Asia, and is expected to create 340,000 green jobs in key sectors such as sustainable transport, renewable energy and low-carbon agriculture over a 30-year period.


14. These initiatives will help ASEAN emerge stronger and greener, and entrench ASEAN’s position in the international economy in the 21st century. We look forward to continuing to work with our ASEAN counterparts, as well as with our partners from around the world.




15. Over the next two days, a variety of issues and challenges that affect ASEAN as a region and institution will be discussed by leading scholars and commentators. I hope that the viewers will enjoy listening to the discussions, and that you will find them interesting and enriching.


16. Thank you.

[1] Source: Google, Temasek and Bain E-Conomy SEA Report 2020.

[2] Source: Google, Temasek and Bain E-Conomy SEA Report 2020.

[3] The BSBR outlines a multi-year plan to deepen ASEAN’s digital integration and connectivity during the second half of the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 (i.e. 2021-2025). The BSBR emphasises and seeks to accelerate work on eight key needle-moving initiatives drawn from ASEAN’s existing sectoral workplans, and injects a new, substantive initiative on working towards the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA).

[4] The ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility (ACGF) is a US$1.7 billion facility launched in April 2019 under the ASEAN Infrastructure Fund (AIF). The ACGF accelerates the development of green and bankable projects in Southeast Asia by utilising public funds more innovatively. It is owned by ASEAN members and ADB, and administered by ADB. To date, three green and sustainable projects, amounting to US$1.41 billion, have been launched under the ACGF.

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