Asean business group calls for coordinated public-private response to Covid-19

ASEAN should set up a high-level special commission for the private and public sectors to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic together, a regional business group has declared.

The South-east Asian bloc must take immediate action "to mitigate the worst impacts of the ongoing pandemic and ensure the long-term prosperity and wellness of its people", said the Asean Business Advisory Council (Asean BAC) in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Asean BAC urged the swift set-up of a special commission that can deliver medium to long-term recommendations to regional leaders at their annual Asean Summit in November, with a focus on travel, essential goods and supply chains, medical services and digital tools.

Cooperation on these fronts could include a coordinated definition of essential goods, the facilitation of cross-border e-commerce for essential goods and medical supplies, and a commitment to keeping international air and land cargo moving, according to the statement.

Asean BAC also called for deeper South-east Asian economic integration and measures such as the removal of non-tariff trade barriers and investment restrictions. Such moves would help Asean to woo foreign direct investment - especially when global manufacturing supply chains are rejigged - after the pandemic is over, it argued.

"No one country can overcome this pandemic alone. Bold and decisive steps are needed if Asean is to make the best possible economic recovery and remain a beacon for global trade," the private sector-led organisation said in its statement.

The joint statement was supported by the Australia-Asean Business Council, AustCham Asean, Asean-New Zealand Business Council, Canada-Asean Business Council, EU-Asean Business Council, UK-Asean Business Council, and US-Asean Business Council.