Pictured from left to right are: ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, H.E. Jose Lucas do Carmo da Silva of Timor Leste, H.E. Malaithong Kommasith of Lao PDR, H.E. Dr Jerry Sambuaga of Indonesia, H.E. Pan Sorasak of Cambodia, H.E. Dr. May Fa’ezah Ahmad Ariffin of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesian Chair H.E. Zulkifli Hasan, H.E. Tran Quoc Khanh of Viet Nam, H.E. Wanchai Varavtihva of Thailand, H.E. Gan Kim Yong of Singapore, H.E. Alfredo E. Pascual of the Philippines, and H.E. Tengku Datuk Seri Utama Zafrul Bin Tengku Abdul Aziz of Malaysia.

MAGELANG, CENTRAL JAVA, INDONESIA—On 22 March 2023, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Fred Pascual met his fellow ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) at the 29th AEM Retreat in Magelang, Indonesia to endorse the economic priorities of ASEAN under Indonesia’s Chairmanship for 2023 with the theme, “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth.”

As ASEAN continues to become a key player in the global and regional economy, Secretary Pascual called on ASEAN Member States to leverage the region’s growing influence and assert a more active role in shaping global rules and disciplines on emerging areas of trade and investments.

“ASEAN needs to be more assertive not only in driving economic activities in the region but also in shaping rules and disciplines on emerging areas of trade and investments toward a more inclusive market and freer flow of goods, services, and investments,” said Secretary Pascual.

To sustain deeper economic integration in the region, he expressed his full support towards Indonesia’s key strategic thrusts on: i) Recovery and Rebuilding; ii) Digital Economy; and iii) Sustainability, which fully embody and encapsulate a comprehensive strategy to transform the region into a forward-looking, connected, inclusive, and sustainable ASEAN. This includes efforts on enhancing digital connectivity, such as the development of the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework (DEFA); enhancing regional and economic cooperation and coordination with the establishment of the RCEP Support Unit; furthering competitiveness of the services sector through the ASEAN Services Facilitation Framework (ASFF); and expanding and deepening ASEAN+1 FTAs through the target signing of the 2nd Protocol to Amend the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) this year, among others.


Building on ASEAN’s niche in key sectors

Secretary Pascual further added that as ASEAN is now at the center of the global economy as a single market and production base, there is a need to remain united in further harnessing ASEAN’s niche in sectors such as manufacturing, creative industry and the digital economy vis-à-vis the new normal.

This can be further facilitated once the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) is upgraded. Thus, he stressed that the upgraded ATIGA must include forward looking elements and mechanisms to resolve long standing implementation issues.

Further, Secretary Pascual stressed that ASEAN must serve as a good example on how the region can engineer a functional regional economic integration despite diverse legal regime, culture, and economic development.

“It is imperative that we keep an open mind on the inclusion of elements or chapters that would meaningfully contribute to the region’s deeper economic integration and stability amidst future challenges or crises,” he added.

The ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) also welcomed the Philippines’ Senate concurrence with the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, and emphasized the importance of ensuring the full implementation of the said Agreement. In parallel, it was also noted as one of the key mechanisms to ensure that the region’s connectivity to the global value chain remains resilient against a changing regional economic architecture.

Secretary Pascual likewise highlighted the potential of harnessing the benefits that the digital economy bring, such as through the timely completion of the preparations to develop an ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA).

“It is important that we maintain this momentum of accelerated growth, and ensure that the digital economy remains to be at the forefront of ASEAN’s priorities,” the PH Trade Chief emphasized.


Importance of private sector collaboration

In an interface with the private sector, through the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC), Secretary Pascual reiterated the country’s commitment to work hand-in-hand with the private sector to advance ASEAN’s goals and objectives.

“We echo ASEAN-BAC’s call for ASEAN to take a leading role in shaping the regional global economy by staying “united, together, and stronger” in determining its economic agenda now and in the future,” he said.

He also assured the private sector that ASEAN is working closely with relevant sectoral bodies in determining how ASEAN can align its priorities with that of the private sector. This includes providing support or even championing private sector-led initiatives that focus on digital transformation, sustainable development, health resilience, and food security, among others.

Alongside regional efforts on the digital economy and sustainability, Secretary Pascual also recognized the growing importance of the creative industries in the region, and sought support for the Philippines’ proposal to establish the ASEAN Creative Economy Working Group (ACEWG) under the ASEAN Economic Pillar.

The said working group is envisioned to facilitate sharing of information and best practices, formulate policies and guidelines, provide strategies for capacity building, and conceptualize and harmonize the definition and scope of the creative economy, among others.  

“Our proposed working group will promote the growth and development of creative industries and the wider culture-based creative economy that will heighten our ASEAN identity and rich history, culture, and heritage. We are doing the same in line with the recently passed Philippine Creative Industries Development Act, which is a crucial enabling measure in transforming the country’s creative industry and fostering economic growth. We in the Philippines intend to make this effort of developing the creative economy a whole-of-ASEAN initiative,” said Secretary Pascual.

In response, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC) readily expressed support on the proposal and intimated to establish a private sector-led counterpart of the Working Group.

Secretary Pascual was joined by Indonesian Chair, H.E. Zulkifli Hasan; fellow ASEAN Economic Ministers: H.E. Dr. May Fa’ezah Ahmad Ariffin of Brunei Darussalam, H.E. Pan Sorasak of Cambodia, H.E. Dr Jerry Sambuaga of Indonesia, H.E. Malaithong Kommasith of Lao PDR, H.E. Tengku Datuk Seri Utama Zafrul Bin Tengku Abdul Aziz of Malaysia, H.E. Gan Kim Yong of Singapore, H.E. Wanchai Varavtihva of Thailand, H.E. Tran Quoc Khanh of Viet Nam; and recently appointed ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Kao Kim Hourn.

Following the observer status granted to Timor-Leste during 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit in November 2022, H.E. Jose Lucas do Carmo da Silva also participated in the meeting. The 29th AEM Retreat is convened to finalize economic pillar priorities ahead of the 42nd ASEAN Summit to be held on 9-11 May 2023.♦

Date of Release: 23 March 2023