The importance of the private sector in ASEAN’s journey towards the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015 will be highlighted at the upcoming ASEAN Business and Investment Summit 2103 (ASEAN BIS 2013). To be held on the sidelines of the ASEAN Economic Ministers meeting in Brunei Darussalam from 19-22 August, the Summit will facilitate discussions on how both the public and private sector can help accelerate the AEC goal.

The critical contribution of the private sector in the development of regional strategies and initiatives is also acknowledged by the ASEAN Secretariat. In its AEC Handbook for Business , the Secretariat highlights the important role of the private sector as the “cornerstone of the new architecture of interdependence among East Asian economies, and between East Asia and the global economy at large”.

The handbook highlights that the collaboration with the private sector is “crucial” in identifying problems and areas of concern towards the establishment of the AEC. It notes that engagement with the private sector is key in improving the “coherence, transparency and synergies of government policies and business actions across industries and sectors in the ASEAN region”.

In the past few years, ASEAN’s engagement with the private sector and the business community has intensified. Discussions and dialogues have taken place through different private sector entities such as the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC).

The ASEAN-BAC has played a strategic role in facilitating engagement with the private sector, particularly with the ASEAN Economic Ministers. Inaugurated in April 2003, the ASEAN-BAC serves as the official channel through which the private sector can provide feedback, recommendations and guidance to ASEAN leaders and policy makers to enhance the region’s efforts towards economic integration.

Ms Fauziah Dato Talib, Chairman of the ASEAN-BAC, highlighted that through the contributions of and interaction with the private sector – including with the food industry, the Council and ASEAN leaders are able to identify priority areas in the move towards regional economic cooperation.

She noted: “The annual recommendations of the private sector and the business community, including the SMEs, have been key in ASEAN-BAC’s mandate to promote greater intra-ASEAN trade, investment and business activities. Over the years, some recommendations have been incorporated into the guidelines of the overall AEC agenda, highlighting the important role that the private sector has in the realisation of the ASEAN single market goal by 2015.

“The food industry is critical in the facilitation of the AEC goal. The sector employs more than four million people through 300,000 companies and there is significant growth potential. By engaging with members of the food industry, the ASEAN-BAC and regional leaders are able to understand the areas of concern that are impeding food trade in the region. This can then help us move forward in the discussions towards a single ASEAN market.”

FIA Executive Director, Bev Postma, highlights the importance of the ASEAN-BAC as the official channel for private sector to engage with ASEAN leaders.

“The ASEAN-BAC plays a vital role as the official ASEAN linkage between the private sector and key ASEAN leaders. Through its various initiatives and events such as the upcoming ASEAN BIS 2103 in August, the Council has provided the private sector and business community with the opportunity to collaborate with key regional leaders in accelerating progress for an integrated ASEAN economy.

“The ASEAN-BAC platform has also allowed the food industry to be part of the AEC 2015 journey. The medium of communication and feedback provided by the ASEAN-BAC has given the food industry – through the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) – the opportunity to engage with key ASEAN leaders and policy makers. This engagement has been focused on ways to accelerate the harmonisation of food standards and increase the trade of high quality food and beverage in the region for the benefit of small, medium and large enterprises and their consumers,” she said.

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