Vietnam can enhance its role further within ASEAN

March 23, 2023 | 20:00
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With Indonesia holding the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2023, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Indonesia had a 2-day visit to Vietnam last week. Arsjad Rasjid, chairman of ASEAN BAC 2023, talked with VIR’s Thuy Dinh about how Vietnam and Indonesia to jointly bolster trade within the region and between both nations.

We are facing a challenging business environment on a global scale. How do you evaluate the support the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) has and the wider Vietnamese business community?

Vietnam can enhance its role further within ASEAN
Arsjad Rasjid, chairman of ASEAN BAC 2023

In our country we have something called Indonesia Incorporated, where the government and the private sector work together. This is very important and, at the ASEAN level, we should have an ASEAN Incorporated, where the governments and the business community work together.

This is because there are multiple challenges. For instance, we have 280 million people in ASEAN. If we didn’t have the public and the private sectors working together, we would not have been able to solve issues like carrying out mass vaccinations during the pandemic.

If we work together on ASEAN connectivity, on energy for example, we can maintain our security with this synergy. We are a $3.2 trillion economy. However, with more efforts towards ASEAN incorporated, we can contribute more to the world than the EU or the US itself. That’s why centrality must happen. This is important to overcoming the challenges that we face globally today.

How do you assess the role of Vietnam in realising the ASEAN-BAC agenda?

If we can align our voices together, we will see many synergies. For example, on food security, Vietnam is fairly advanced. Then we also have the challenge of climate change, yet we can connect and help each other on this too.

Vietnam has secured the highest economic growth and exports worldwide in the bloc. But we do not always work together for this reason. For example, Vietnam may import tuna from Europe, but why not from Indonesia? We have many neighbours, and if we work together, ASEAN would become stronger despite geopolitical changes.

For example, there were some policy changes in China a couple of weeks ago, then there will be an election in the US next year, and more besides. So, in all these situations, it is important for us to combine synergies to stand against global headwinds.

In your view, what initiatives can be put forward between Indonesia and Vietnam to drive ASEAN centrality?

The ASEAN QR code is a good initiative to show payment system connectivity. Another one is that we work on the so-called harmonisation of company ID, for example, so that Vietnamese companies find it easier to provide access to Indonesia and vice versa, but we must conduct a pilot first. As long as we move forward in this, it will boost trade and investment. If we can manufacture the base substances for medicine together, in another example, we can show collectivity what is important for all.

This is not only important for the people, but is also quite good for businesses. Something, like electric vehicles, is also important. We can build them ourselves because we have the components and minerals in ASEAN, except maybe for lithium, but in that we can work with Australia or Africa to create forward movement. But we must work together.

How should we bolster Vietnam’s role in ASEAN?

The relationship we must build is business-to-business (B2B), not just government-to-government. For example, via creating legacies and stimulating participation of firms in legacy projects, we can interact and know each other better because it’s very difficult to go on just agreements alone. Participation of Vietnamese companies in legacy projects is crucial.

Vietnam’s voice in ASEAN is also important. Vietnam should voice more on business in ASEAN and participate more. We expect the Vietnamese government to have more dialogue between businesses and the government, between ministers and business, because though any agreement is signed by the government, ultimately it will be implemented by businesses.

So, businesses should participate more, as they are the ones who understand what’s actually needed. The business voice of Vietnam is critical.

How can we boost trade ties between Indonesia and Vietnam?

Looking at current trading activities between Vietnam and Indonesia, most of the trade is with traditional commodities, like coal or automotives. We have to move beyond that, and that’s why we refer to digital transformation. We have to think about how to create IT business or digital business between Vietnam and Indonesia. We need to have different trades and different sectors, not just the traditional sectors. I believe our trade value is not just going to reach $18 billion, but can be doubled because we can create complementary business. Vietnam and Indonesia have a very close relationship. Even our independence days are only two weeks apart. We respect each other and want to work together.

One of our business groups in Indonesia, Ciputra, set a foothold in Vietnam at the very beginning. We also have another company from Indonesia, Japfa, in the poultry business here. We would like to see more investments from Indonesia to Vietnam, and vice versa.

In September this year, we will have the ASEAN Business Investment Summit and ASEAN Business Awards, when we will be inviting many Vietnamese companies to come to Indonesia. We aim to create a B2B roundtable, while inviting the Vietnamese prime minister to participate in the conversation so that we can see more business between us.

Launched in 2003, ASEAN-BAC was set up with the mandate to provide private sector feedback and guidance to boost the bloc’s efforts towards economic integration.

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This year’s theme is ASEAN Centrality: Innovating Towards Greater Inclusivity, with five key focus areas: digital transformation, sustainable development, trade facilitation, health resilience, and food security. The event carries the 5Ps of Peace, Prosperity, People, Planet, and Partnership as fundamental values throughout its activities.

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By Thuy Dinh

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