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Davos 2023: Is ASEAN On The Cusp Of Fulfilling Its Long-Held Promise

- Economically, ASEAN is one of the few bright spots as the global economy continues to stall.

- The region is poised to lead the next era of digital participation, with a focus on e-commerce retail and online labour.

- ASEAN is known for its neutrality, giving it a strong position from which to act as mediator on the global stage.

In the more than half century since its founding, ASEAN has historically been a relatively ‘quiet’ trading bloc. Signs suggest, however, that this is changing. Rarely was there a month during 2022 when ASEAN wasn’t in the news, and it was a year in which it hosted not one but three global leadership summits – the ASEAN/East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, the G20 Summit in Bali and APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Bangkok.

For ASEAN watchers, this wasn’t a surprise; many suggest the time has come for the bloc to capitalize on its assets, size, growing wealth and burgeoning global clout.

Growth – leveraging existing and new advantages

Economically, ASEAN is one of the few bright spots as the global economy continues to stall. Its economies enjoyed strong growth during 2022 on the back of a post-COVID-19 surge in activity, and although this is slowing and the global chill will have some effect, overall growth forecasts for 2023 are pegged at 4.4% for the ASEAN-6 (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam).

Collectively, ASEAN is a huge bloc in terms of physical landmass, natural resources and population size (approximately 680 million). Its young population is increasingly educated and affluent, and with an entrepreneurial mindset and growing resources to invest in business, they are creating a strong regional market, which is helping to offset the dampening effects of the global slowdown. Tourism is another boon, and as international travel recovers during 2023, the region – and particularly its perennially popular destinations like Thailand – should enjoy continued growth in arrivals.

As a trading bloc ASEAN is one of the fastest growing (accounting for approximately 8% of global exports), and through years of making trading deals, now sits at the heart of two major free trade areas (FTAs) – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which includes Latin American countries like Chile and Mexico, as well as Canada and several other Asian nations.

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