Arin Jira, Chairman, ASEAN Business Advisory Council

Text size +-

On what the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) means for ASEAN member states 

Why did the ASEAN Business Advisory Council under Thailand’s chairmanship choose the theme “Empowering ASEAN 4.0”? 

ARIN JIRA: Both this theme and the broader ASEAN theme of “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” are focused on the digital economy and connectivity. There are four pillars that underpin the ASEAN 4.0 initiative: digital connectivity, human capital empowerment, micro-, small and medium-sized enterprise sustainability and digital infrastructure. The latter is the most crucial, because without efficient and reliable broadband access, there can be no Industry 4.0. 

Human empowerment development is very much aligned with the ASEAN’s focus on sustainability. To this end, the implementation of the ASEAN Human Empowerment and Development (AHEAD) legacy project will be crucial for upskilling the population, especially as certain jobs are taken over by artificial intelligence, blockchain, data analytics and robotic systems. We therefore need a highly trained workforce ready to adapt to new, skills-based jobs, with AHEAD acting as a crucial catalyst for this.
The theme is also about looking ahead at the opportunities presented by the 4IR. For example, South Korea was at the same level of development as Thailand 40 years ago; today, however, the former is far ahead, largely as a result of spending over 5% of GDP on research and development. We would like to see ASEAN governments increase their spending commitments in this area. Meanwhile, the sustainability pillar is largely aimed at micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises, which form the backbone of ASEAN economies. We must ensure they understand the opportunities presented by technological innovations, and that they have access to the financial instruments required to adapt to the digital economy. 

Should ASEAN members allow for greater labour mobility to address skills gaps across the region?  

JIRA: This is where mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs) could come into play. At present, eight professions fall under the MRA category, allowing workers in these fields to have freedom of movement; however, they may not always be strictly enforced for largely protectionist reasons. ASEAN member countries must be more open to free movement. Although this issue has been at the forefront of discussions for a long time, there remain several memoranda of understanding that have been signed but not yet implemented. We need to speed up the application of such arrangements.

To what extent can ASEAN members synergise their Industry 4.0 strategies without blunting their own competitiveness as destinations for high-tech investments? 

JIRA: To ensure we can progress together, every country should strive to upgrade their digital infrastructure. In the private sector, we want to focus on digitalisation to ensure that the whole of ASEAN embraces Industry 4.0 and keeps up with the rapidly changing global business environment. Pan-ASEAN development is the best way forwards, but this view is not always supported by the business community, with some stakeholders still very protective of their own sectors. As we progress in terms of education and training, individuals will learn how they can benefit from policies that promote growth across the whole of ASEAN.

Where do you see opportunities for ASEAN companies to capitalise on opportunities arising from the trade tensions between the US and China?

JIRA: We should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the temporary relocation of industries from China to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and elsewhere to escape US tariffs. Any boom resulting from this could be temporary. If free trade is threatened over the long term, ASEAN member states will be the next target. The administration of US President Donald Trump has already accused some ASEAN countries of being currency manipulators and threatened us with tariffs. However, we have a voice and as one of the most progressive regions in the world, we should use this voice to call for global economic peace. 

Which sectors have the greatest potential to emerge as new growth engines? 

JIRA: Tourism remains a high-potential sector – particularly in Thailand. We need to help other ASEAN members replicate our successes. Countries could benefit from partnerships that incentivise international travellers to visit several member states in one trip. In the Industry 4.0 era, health care offers another promising opportunity. Some ASEAN countries, including Thailand, have an ageing population, and technological developments in health care equipment could enable, for example, remote diagnostics. This is particularly helpful for reaching communities in rural and inaccessible areas. Lastly, agri-food offers big potential to serve our growing consumer markets and address food security issues.  

Covid-19 Economic Impact Assessments

Stay updated on how some of the world’s most promising markets are being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and what actions governments and private businesses are taking to mitigate challenges and ensure their long-term growth story continues.

Register now and also receive a complimentary 2-month licence to the OBG Research Terminal.

Register Here×

Product successfully added to shopping cart

Read Next:

In Thailand

Building Capital

Thailand's economy may be poised for a bounce back after it was hit by the global financial crisis, with the country's capital markets showing signs of leading the way back to growth.

In Economy

Jordan: A new investment landscape

With efforts to accelerate the pace of economic growth and boost domestic employment taking centre stage under the new government of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit, a new law is under discussion...


Turkey's Prime Minister Ecevit in the US

The Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has spent the last week in the US hoping to garner support for economic reforms at home and trade concessions for Turkish exports to the US.