Malaysia calls for economic reboot at Asean Summit


MALAYSIA has called for an urgent restart of economic activities between Asean nations amid forecasts of sharp declines in regional growth after months of near paralysis to contain the pandemic.

The country mooted the idea of opening up borders to support travel and tourism in certain sectors, such as medical tourism. Malaysia had also pushed for the expeditious formulation of an all-inclusive regional economic recovery plan to help countries rebuild their economies.

Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, alongside Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, had earlier proposed the setting up of “travel bubbles” with low-risk countries to allow the movement of people.

The PM said the plan was crucial to shore up investments and create job opportunities for people in the region. The bubble or “green lane” concept involves the easing of travel restrictions between two or more countries where Covid-19 infection rates are suppressed.

The region is among the first to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak and has since seen a rapid surge in confirmed cases. Most countries are now battling the prospects of a recession as containment measures have affected trade, tourism and production.

The Asian Development Bank expects South-East Asia’s GDP growth to contract by 2.7% in 2020, with Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy projected to shrink by up to 6.5% — making it the worst hit. Malaysia’s GDP is forecast to contract 4% this year due to slumping global trade and demand.

Asean trade hit US$2.8 trillion (RM12.02 trillion) in 2019, of which over a fifth was intra-regional. China, with an 18% share of total Asean trade, is the bloc’s largest trading partner followed by the US (10.4%), the European Union (8.7%) and Japan (8%).

The main investors to Asean are — the US with 15.2%, Japan (12.7%), Hong Kong (7%) and China (5.7%). Despite the challenges and uncertainties faced in 2019, foreign direct investment inflows to Asean recorded a 4.9% increase to US$160.6 billion.

Senior Minister (Economic Cluster) Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali had also engaged in a session with representatives of the Asean Business Advisory Council to discuss private sector recommendations and feedback on the implementation of an economic cooperation.

He said the support from the business community is crucial in bolstering government initiatives in dealing with Covid-19 and called for Asean to take the lead in pressing for greater global battle and enhanced collaborative efforts to fight the pandemic.

“Malaysia believes that acting in a cohesive and responsive manner is not an option, but indeed an utmost necessity for Asean economic revitalisation,” he said.

He said Asean and its free trade agreement partners, will continue working towards the conclusion and signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this year, which Malaysia believes would contribute to the deepening of regional economic integration and prosperity.