Lim Jock Hoi, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) delivers the keynote address during the 2018 Asian Logistics and Maritime Conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the Hong Kong government)

Asean Connectivity Will Be Key to Regional and Global Initiatives, Secretary General Says

NOVEMBER 22, 2018

Hong Kong. The secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said a more closely integrated region would be crucial for the success of multilateral cooperation agreements.

"Asean's commitment to greater regional connectivity is core to the success of regional and global initiatives," Lim Jock Hoi said in his keynote address at the 2018 Asian Logistics and Maritime Conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

He cited several examples, such as the Asia-Europe Connectivity Agenda, China's Belt and Road Initiative and Asean's Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement comprising 16 countries, which is expected to be concluded by the end of this year.

Lim also touched on the importance of cooperation in times of global uncertainty.

"When the multilateral trading system is under pressure, only through a more integrated Asean, and greater connectivity, will we gain more impactful and meaningful outcomes," he said.

Connectivity will also be key for Asean member states to tap the potential of the digital economy, which, according to a recent report by Bain and Company, could raise their combined gross domestic product by $1 trillion within the next seven years.

However, boosting connectivity within Asean remains a challenge on multiple fronts.

Despite the regional bloc's focus on building sustainable infrastructure and enabling seamless logistics, as laid out in the Asean Connectivity 2025 master plan, Lim said the amount of investment needed for those projects would require new resources and instruments.

According to Asian Development Bank estimates, the total infrastructure investment requirements in Asean between 2016 and 2030 amount to $3.1 trillion, or about $210 billion annually.

Lim said bonds and blended finance could be helpful, adding that attracting more private sector investment would also be a key.

However, improving connectivity infrastructure only solves part of the problem, according to Karen Reddington, president of Asia Pacific at FedEx Express.

"It's [also] about making sure you can cross that border smoothly and you don't get stuck in customs regulations and such. Both the physical and regulatory [efforts] must come together," she said.

'Super-Connector'

As plans to improve connectivity become more prominent in the larger Asia-Pacific region as well, Asean cooperation with a transportation and logistics hub, such as Hong Kong, may provide significant support to achieve these goals.

Following more than three years of negotiations, Asean and Hong Kong signed two economic agreements – one on free trade and the other on investment – on the sidelines of the 31st Asean Summit in the Philippines in November last year.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in her opening remarks during this week's conference that relations between Asean and Hong Kong are at their peak.

"Relations between Asean and Hong Kong have never been better, never more promising than they are now," Lam said.

Margaret Fong, executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said the Asean-Hong Kong agreement, expected to come into effect in January next year, would further enhance the Chinese special administrative region's role as a two-way investment and business hub, connecting the region and the rest of the world.

Louisa Yan, principal assistant secretary for transportation at Hong Kong's Transport and Housing Bureau, said the Chinese city was within four hours' flying of all major markets in Asia and within five hours' flying from half the global population.

Hong Kong also aims to become a "super-connector" to facilitate supply chain operations and professional services to develop the Chinese government's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

The initiative, also known as One Belt One Road, is a grand scheme to develop infrastructure that will connect Asia, Europe and Africa. It therefore offers another push towards connectivity within Asean.

Connectivity within Asia as a whole was one of the key focus areas under discussion by the 2,000 delegates from more than 30 countries who attended this year's Asian Logistics and Maritime Conference.

Now in its eighth year, the annual event is organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the government of Hong Kong.

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