Human Development Central to COVID-19 Recovery and Long-Term Growth Across ASEAN: EU-ASEAN Business Council

April 12, 2021

Singapore, 21 October 2020 – The EU-ASEAN Business Council (EU-ABC), and the ASEAN Human Development Organisation (AHDO), today published “Human Development and Moving Past the Middle Income Trap ASEAN”, a position paper outlining how strategies centred on human development can contribute to post-pandemic revival strategies. In line with the regional vision for a cohesive and responsive ASEAN, the EU-ABC positions human development as a catalyst for sustainable growth, providing recommendations that not only mitigate the socioeconomic damage caused by Covid-19, but also drive long-term growth by moving past the middle income trap.

As part of the study, a survey of 159 European and ASEAN companies was conducted. A key finding of the survey showed that businesses are not unanimously bullish (60% positive responses) about ASEAN’s middle-income countries becoming upper income economies. This is a worrying trend as it may mean that some countries in ASEAN may not be able to move up the value chain at the time when digitalisation and innovation are key to unlocking growth potential.

Donald Kanak, Chairman, EU-ABC and Chairman, Eastspring Investments, said, “The question is whether ASEAN’s large population countries which, due to the current pandemic situation, are experiencing at best stagnant economic growth, will be  able to innovate and develop high value-added products and services.  Although ASEAN has been one of the world’s high-growth regions, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed deficiencies and risks for development. ASEAN has some of the highest inequality levels worldwide and 36 million people across Southeast Asia still live below the poverty line.  Now, more than ever, policies centred on human development are key in securing a sustainable future for ASEAN.”

For ASEAN in Covid-19 pandemic, inequality has now become a visible obstacle in moving beyond the middle-income trap. Social mobility and ASEAN’s growing middle class may well be at risk with an additional 11 million will falling into poverty. ASEAN’s potential to take a leading role in the world depends directly on the quality of its human development..  In the Asian Century, ASEAN’s challenge will be how to match the pace and level of human development with China and India, giant middle-income countries with many competitive advantages and rising capabilities.  

Dr Bob Aubrey, Founder and Strategic Advisor of AHDO said:  The so-called “middle-income trap” in ASEAN shows that economic growth is not enough to create an advanced economy. What got us to where we are as a region will not get us to where we want to go, unless we meet our human development challenges. Companies have an essential role to play and this study shows how they plan to contribute to an advanced human development ecosystem in the region.  

The EU-ABC’s position paper comes at a timely moment as ASEAN member states begin to discuss and implement various Covid-19 recovery strategies, creating a window of opportunity to recalibrate economies for sustainable growth. Sustainable growth which puts ASEAN’s citizens are the forefront, now, more than ever, needs to be featured more prominently, being vital to secure ASEAN’s long-term economic competitiveness and resilience.

About the EU-ASEAN Business Council

The EU-ASEAN Business Council (EU-ABC) is the primary and sole voice for European business covering all of the ASEAN region.

It is recognised by the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat and is an accredited entity under Annex 2 of the ASEAN Charter. Independent of both bodies, the Council has been established to help promote the interests of European businesses operating within ASEAN and to advocate for changes in policies and regulations which would help promote trade and investment between Europe and the ASEAN region. The Council works on a sectorial and cross-industry basis to help improve the investment and trading conditions for European Businesses in the ASEAN region through influencing policy and decision makers  throughout the region and in the EU, as well as acting as a platform for the exchange of information and ideas amongst its members and regional players within the ASEAN region.

The Executive Director of the EU-ASEAN Business Council is Mr Chris Humphrey, and its Chairman is Mr Donald Kanak. The Council is led by an elected Board consisting of corporate leaders representing a range of important industry sectors and representatives of the European Chambers of Commerce.

About the ASEAN Human Development Organisation

The ASEAN Human Development Organisation was founded in 2018 to promote human development in the workplace across the ASEAN’s Member States. AHDO connects ASEAN’s national HR Associations in the region into a professional community and works with ASEAN institutions on policy and initiatives concerning human development at work. AHDO aims to develop ASEAN’s management identity and culture with a core purpose of improving human development at work

To fulfil its mission AHDO:  

·       Publishes Research and White Papers

·       Organises Conferences and Events Across the Region

·       Works with International Organisations

·       Manages Regional Certification Programmes for Human Development Professionals.

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