ASEAN Business Summit: Small Growth in the Region

Nay Pyi Taw – Economic Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), high-level United States Government representatives, and business leaders from ASEAN and the United States gathered last week at the ASEAN-US Business Summit in Nay Pyi Taw to discuss regional policies to support small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) development.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of the ASEAN economy, accounting for over 96% of all enterprises and for between 50 – 95% of all employment in many ASEAN Member States. With markets and trade increasingly shaped by global value chains, small and large businesses seek to form fruitful partnerships that will support their growth in regional and global markets.

“ASEAN is establishing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, we are also committed to being fully integrated into the global economy,” Union Minister for National Planning and Economic Development, Dr. Kan Zaw stated in his remarks. “As SMEs have been instrumental to this region’s economic integration, ASEAN Member States must promote SME development as a key mechanism for increasing growth, reducing poverty and improving equity.  I am pleased to see so many representatives from Myanmar SMEs here today as they seek to engage further in regional and international markets.”

“We are all here today because we believe in the power of economic engagement and regional integration to change the lives in our countries for the better, from Mandalay to Milwaukee,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman as he provided welcoming remarks.  “To realize this region’s full economic potential, we must do more to connect ASEAN’s small businesses with global markets.”

Business representatives from the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, US-ASEAN Business Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce discussed with ASEAN and U.S. Government officials what SMEs need to be able to contribute to rapid growth in the region and to connect to global markets.  The dialogue raised ideas to improve the regulatory environment and to improve access to technology and innovation for small businesses. These recommendations were then shared in discussions between the United States Trade Representative, U.S. businesses and the ASEAN Economic Ministers later in the day.

Ambassador Charles Rivkin, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economics and Business Affairs, in his closing remarks said, “It has been so encouraging to be a part of this Summit, which ties in so well with Secretary Kerry’s philosophy that economic policy is foreign policy.”

The Business Summit included the launch of a report that provides recommendations for creating an improved environment for small business development in ASEAN. The report was jointly prepared by the US-ASEAN Business Council and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment programme.

The event highlighted the work of the US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive SMEs. This Alliance combines the expertise and resources of USAID and major U.S. corporations through the US-ASEAN Business Council to help SMEs in ASEAN boost their competitiveness in domestic markets and take better advantage of opportunities provided by the ASEAN Economic Community.

The United States Trade Representative and the USAID worked with the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, the Chair of ASEAN in 2014, to hold this Second Business Summit with the support of ASEAN and U.S. business organizations