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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

17 December 2020

Keynote Speaker

Excellency Mr. Nguyen Quoc Dzung, Deputy Foreign Minister, ASEAN SOM Leader of Viet Nam,

Excellency Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of the ASEAN,

Excellencies, distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to extend my sincere appreciation and congratulations to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam for the successful Chairmanship of ASEAN 2020.

May I also take this opportunity to thank the ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi for his able leadership in these uncertain times, and for extending meaningful collaboration with ESCAP.

I am pleased to recognise that our partnership and continued engagements provided the way to formulate a comprehensive recovery effort to deal with the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have no doubt to reiterate that the 2020 events have clearly taught us that solidarity and multilateralism remain our most important tool to build back better from crises now and in the future.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Under Viet Nam’s Chairmanship, ASEAN has proved once again that it’s principles and values are rooted in promoting regionalism and inclusive multilateralism.  I welcome your focus on cohesive response so as to represent the interests of the ASEAN region and its over 600 million people.

I commend your leadership and commitment in promoting partnership, peace, stability, and development in our region and beyond.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly weakened regional economic growth and trade dynamics. Over the past three quarters of 2020, member States have been designing and implementing effective policy measures to mitigate the disruptions caused by border closures and restrictive trade and supply chains measures imposed in various levels. But the results varied across subregions of Asia and the Pacific.

With this background, please allow me to highlight four policy lessons learnt that are relevant to further guide our strategic regional discussions today.

First, focus on swift and coordinated trade and connectivity policies. Trade and supply chains were able to function over the past three quarters of 2020 in Asia and the Pacific due to swift actions undertaken by customs and other government institutions to streamline their procedures through contactless and paperless trade.

We have been reminded often by the current pandemic-induced crisis that with coordinated and collaborative government actions at the regional level based on solidarity can promote inclusive, resilient and sustainable development for all.

Second, let us accelerate digitalization. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are surviving the crisis because of their agility to quickly transform their business through embracing technology. In fact, the sectors including textile, apparel and footwear, among others, have almost entirely converted to digital platforms, including their manufacturing, logistics, distribution, and market operations.

By reshoring, redrafting and reprioritizing certain sectors of these supply chains, regional and subregional trade and investment opportunities are perfectly positioned to generate new types of jobs and economic dynamism.

In this context, ESCAP Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific remains as one of the most vital tools to cut trade costs by 25 per cent.

Third, we must scale up policy harmonization. By promoting transparency and sharing of information, these policy harmonizing procedures can develop model provisions for trade in times of crisis and pandemic in regional trade and other agreements.

This unique ongoing UN-wide initiative to develop model provisions in Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) to address a pandemic-like crisis is a significant step forward, especially to strengthen inclusive trade, resilient supply chain and sustainable connectivity.  

Fourth, we must harness regional and subregional partnership. We must achieve digital, resilient, and decarbonized regional connectivity. The platforms provided by the Trans Asian Highway Network and the Trans-Asian Railway Network Agreements have already brought countries together to minimize cross-border connectivity disruptions.

Furthermore, with the wider acceptance of these regional solutions-oriented initiatives, member States should ensure timely application of the United Nations conventions, standards, tools and instruments for trade and transport connectivity.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

With the growing scale and depth of economic integration within and between regions, there are opportunities to leverage the power of trade-investment dynamism and partnerships to forge ahead in the post-COVID-19 era.

If ASEAN is to ensure sustainable recovery out of this pandemic, member States must rebuild economies and protect people in a synergetic manner. In this context, ASEAN Centrality has played and will continue to play a key role in the wider region's socio-economic dynamics.

For the economic benefits to be sustainable, RCEP’s development agenda needs to be aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Let us not forget that RCEP provides unique opportunity to strengthen regional cooperation and integration in supporting member States efforts to address COVID-19 responses.  So, let us strengthen regional cooperation and widen market access through such multilateral trade arrangements.

In this context, I recognize that a total of 11 on-going or newly extended Plan of Actions (POAs), including with the United Nations can further build on the longstanding dialogue relationships. These POAs are important guide for the implementation of shared goals and objectives of ASEAN and its Strategic Partnerships. ASEAN must continue its strategic Plan of Actions with its Dialogue Partners to enhance partnership opportunities for sustainable development.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored society’s reliance on women both on the front lines of the response, and at home, while the pandemic’s impact is putting at risk the hard-won gains for women’s rights. In this regard, more effort is needed in the areas of women’s economic empowerment; women’s political participation and leadership; and elimination of violence against women and girls in ASEAN and beyond.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The ASEAN-UN Plan of Action 2021-2025 provides a framework for both the UN and ASEAN to draw from as we develop programmes and activities working with ASEAN. This is a key planning document for UN entities to deliver on our joint actions on the ground for people, planet and prosperity.

I am delighted to inform that ESCAP worked towards facilitating dialogue and providing and coordinating strategic and substantive inputs to the development of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework in line with the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At the 11th ASEAN Summit, our Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, expressed the United Nations readiness to work with ASEAN member States to build resilience, improve preparedness and safeguard the environment, calling the pandemic an opportunity to build back better.

We especially look forward to working closely with Brunei Darussalam as the ASEAN Chair for 2021 under theme “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper”.  

ESCAP, along with the UN system, remains fully committed to supporting ASEAN Member States for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in our region.

I wish you a very successful and fruitful discussion during the session of the high-level roundtable.

Thank you for your attention.


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