Monday, September 21, 2009

Businessmen call off Asean forum

Political instability a major concern

Published: 21/09/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Business

Southeast Asian business leaders have cancelled their annual meeting set to take place in Thailand this year, citing the country's prolonged political strife and rising tension at the border between Thailand and Cambodia.

The Asean Business Advisory Council was scheduled to meet in Bangkok a few days ahead of the Asean Summit in Hua Hin late next month but its members recently decided not to hold the forum this year, said the council's chairman, Arin Jira.

The meeting was expected to draw about 500 leading executives from Asean members and trading partners to discuss economic prospects, update investment opportunities, and provide recommendations to governments on policies to integrate the regional economy, he said.

The political situation in Thailand has yet to stabilise and growing conflicts have triggered many uncertainties, said Mr Arin.

"Business leaders, therefore, had to rethink whether to come to Thailand because they are not certain about our capability to host the annual meeting," he said.

At the same time, the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia also prompted the Thai government to decide this might be not the right time to hold the meeting, he added.

The Asean summit was postponed after anti-government red-shirt protesters broke into the summit venue in Pattaya in April. The Thai government then decided to switch the October summit venue from Phuket to Hua Hin for security reasons.

Mr Arin said that Vietnam, due to chair Asean after Thailand, would host the next Asean business council meeting late next year.

There would definitely be lost opportunities in terms of trade and investment talks from Thailand failing to hold this meeting, he said. Networking among Asean business leaders is also a key objective of the forum, he added.

While the economies of Asean members such as Indonesia are picking up and the global economy has stabilised, Thailand might miss the opportunity because of its unstable politics, he said.

Progress has not been made on Asean business leaders' proposals such as establishing Asean brands, forming an Asean joint-venture company to raise bargaining power in major agricultural products or setting up a credit financing scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), he said.

As the global economy remains fragile, offering financial assistance to SMEs is the most critical measure for the government to push forward, he said. In his view, all Asean leaders are aware of this issue. Asean aims to create the Asean Economic Community (AEC) six years from now but has made little progress on integration, he added.

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