SINGAPORE: Finance ministers from the ASEAN member states are gathered at a “time of optimism” for their meeting this year and under Singapore’s chairmanship, the themes of sustaining growth, boosting resilience and fostering innovation will be in focus, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (Apr 6).
However, he cautioned the region not to take this positive outlook for granted given looming headwinds, such as trade tensions.
Southeast Asia’s finance ministers are gathered in Singapore this week for the 4th ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors' meetings from Apr 3 to 6. Singapore is the ASEAN chair this year.
In his opening remarks for the 22nd ASEAN Finance Ministers’ meeting, Mr Heng said he and his counterparts are meeting “at a time of optimism for the regional economies”.
Citing estimates from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Mr Heng said ASEAN economies grew 5.1 per cent collectively in 2017 – a figure that he described as “impressive”. The collective gross domestic product (GDP) for ASEAN is expected to outstrip most other regions in 2018, he added.
Nevertheless, regional economies “should not take this positive outlook for granted”.
“We are only too aware of the headwinds that lie ahead - including rising protectionism and trade tensions, technological disruptions and demographic trends. If not managed well, these forces can dramatically affect our growth trajectories,” said Mr Heng.
“But, working together, we can rise to meet these challenges.”
Under Singapore’s chairmanship, the overarching theme of the ASEAN meetings this year is a “Resilient and Innovative ASEAN”. For the finance track, the focus will lie on sustaining growth, boosting resilience and fostering innovation, while building on the key themes from Philippines’ chairmanship last year.
Under the three areas of focus, key topics include how to better mobilise private capital to plug the gap between ASEAN’s infrastructure development and financing needs, enhancing the region’s disaster resilience and cyber resilience capabilities, as well as support for digital innovations like financial technology (fintech).
Mr Heng said the meeting for finance ministers today will also involve the ASEAN Secretariat and international organisations, such as the Asian Development Bank, the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (or AMRO), the IMF and the World Bank Group. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will join the meeting for the first time.
“Already, ASEAN collaborates closely with these organisations, and we appreciate their views on how ASEAN can work together to grow our economies and improve the lives of our people,” he said.
“Their presence… is also testimony to the importance that they place on ASEAN, and a shared aspiration to see the ASEAN Economic Community succeed.”
Earlier on Friday, the ASEAN finance ministers and central bank governors met the EU-ASEAN Business Council to discuss areas where ASEAN and EU businesses can work closely together. Later in the day, there will be a similar meeting with the US-ASEAN Business Council.
“We welcome these exchanges with the private sector. We are committed to collaborating with industry to ensure that our economies remain relevant and we continue to create good jobs for our peoples,” said Mr Heng.
After which, the finance ministers and central bank governors will have a meeting before holding a joint press conference in the evening.
The finance ministers also attended the 8th World Bank-Singapore Infrastructure Finance Summit and had a closed-door retreat on Thursday, where Mr Heng said there was a “good discussion”.
“We discussed ways to promote infrastructure financing and close the natural catastrophe protection gap in the region,” he said.