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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

13 July 2021

Ms. Emaleen Abdul Rahman Teo, Permanent Secretary and ASEAN-Brunei Darussalam SOM Leader, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

Mr. Michael Tene, Deputy Secretary-General of the ASEAN Political-Security Community,

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning,

We are still in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that has entered its second year.

We continue to witness the world grappling with the multi-faceted challenges of the novel coronavirus, especially with new variants, that has continued to unleash multiple interrelated crises. Pre-existing vulnerabilities have only compounded the effects of the pandemic.

South-East Asia is no exception. The subregion is now facing a socio-economic emergency following the health crisis and response. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of international travel and global value chains by interrupting cross-border trade and transport, two key activities for ASEAN countries, and disrupting production networks.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions are likely to further complicate the trajectory of sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific. Now, the pandemic could reverse decades of progress on poverty and heightened vulnerabilities as the full-scale effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on SDGs efforts is yet to be determined.

For South-East Asia, its countries were not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030; now extra effort will be needed to meet both the SDGs and the recovery objectives. Firstly, it will require governments and development organizations to participate more effectively in established policy arrangements and programmes. And secondly, both human and financial resources will need to be mobilized locally and through regional stakeholder partnerships to effectively address the immediate and long-term challenges.

Countries in South-East Asia were able to respond quickly to the pandemic because of effective coordination from ASEAN, thus avoiding serious health impacts. But the bloc’s bounce back should be structured around priorities ESCAP has identified as supporting economic recovery, protecting people and enhancing resilience, and restoring supply chains and supporting MSMEs.

ASEAN’s own Comprehensive Recovery Framework to strengthen pandemic preparedness and future resilience recommends responses across multiple sectors in cooperation with Dialogue Partners. In addition, under the overall framework of the ASEAN-United Nations Joint Strategic Plan of Action on Disaster Management, we cover our UN initiatives in all aspects of disaster risk management.

The on-going pandemic has underscored the importance of harnessing multilateral partnerships in our recovery plans and programmes. As the complexity of the crisis grows, collective multi-stakeholder action will be required. Given its scale and unpredictable impact, the pandemic has the potential to shake the trust and belief in multilateralism and its institutions.

That is why I am convinced that this is the time to put multilateralism fully into practice. We must reinvigorate multilateralism to “build back better” through more collaboration and increased partnerships.

A strong, networked multilateralism-inspired system can effectively support the attainment of the SDGs through meaningful impacts on stakeholder’s implementation on the ground. 

ESCAP, the UN family and development partners all have been working closely with Governments in our region to promote and enhance regional cooperation in several priority areas.

For example, at the 5th High-Level Brainstorming Dialogue on Enhancing Complementarities organized earlier this year by the Government of Thailand, the secretariats of ASEAN and ESCAP reviewed the simultaneous implementation of the five priority areas of complementarity.

Unfortunately, multilateralism must overcome increasing nationalism, which has led to protectionist policies among long-time trading partners, thus, challenging the virtues of international cooperation at a time of crisis. These obstacles deter countries from solving complex challenges that require the involvement of all parties and partners. Given the multi-faceted nature and unpredictability of the crisis, there remains a strong temptation to advance policy responses unilaterally rather than through multilateral actions.

That makes this seminar organized by Brunei Darussalam as ASEAN Chair very timely. ASEAN senior officials will deliberate with their UN counterparts on a multilateral approach to trade, the environment, cyber-security and the pandemic itself.

What will stand out in your discussions today is the growing importance of regional cooperation and integration frameworks, and how they will shape or re-shape the multilateral system in the years ahead.

That system can be built on the foundations of the new ASEAN-UN Plan of Action 2021-2025. All these regional institutions, initiatives and agreements are essential building blocks for a strong, multilateral system to achieve sustainable development and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We look forward to our continued partnership with the ASEAN countries, sectoral bodies and Secretariat. The UN agencies present at this event more committed than ever to leverage the expertise and capabilities of regional and subregional organizations to identify areas of common interest and mobilize collective action to promote inclusive and networked multilateralism in our region.

Thank you very much.

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