Liberalisation and empowerment the path to Malaysian prosperity


March 25, 2010

Liberalisation and empowerment the path to Malaysian prosperity

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/03/25/liberalisation-and-empowerment-the-path-to-malaysian-prosperity/

It’s nearly a year since the Malaysian people overwhelmingly cast aside the domineering, divisive and corruption-riddled government of Najib Razak for an alternative led by Mohamad Mahathir that promised renewed focus on the people’s interests. The new Pakatan Harapan government undertook to restore good governance, raise the bar for ministers and civil servants, recover embezzled funds and deliver them back to Malaysians as cost of living relief.

A view of a building site beneath the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 18 February 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Olivia Harris).

Translating rhetoric into action has thus far proven an uphill battle for an inexperienced government accustomed to life in opposition. It’s struggling to turn the vision into concrete reforms, as it tries to navigate a hostile upper house and entrenched vested interests. Progress has been confined to a handful of easy wins and the multiplication of committees to continue decades-old debates about well-understood policy failings. Malaysians are becoming restless for the government to deliver on the promise of a ‘New Malaysia’ that secures livings standards regardless of ethnicity.

Efforts to deconcentrate centralised power structures and break up state monopolies are central to reinvigorating the economy. This will enable more effective governance and help tackle endemic corruption. Malaysia’s Federal Government commands over 88 per cent of total government revenue and expenditure (the share is closer to 50 per cent in federations like Australia and the United States), leaving almost 170 states and local authorities with limited resources to address local needs. Imperious policymaking from the administrative capital of Putrajaya coupled with non-elected local governments bedevil the effective delivery of local services including law enforcement, education and healthcare.

This week’s lead article by Wing Thye Woo argues that ‘[g]rowth requires state governments that are empowered to plan and implement their own development strategies’. This would require a significant shift from the highly political allocation of development finance that penalised opposition-led states under the former government.

Government-linked corporations (GLCs) dominate the Malaysian economy and that needs to change. GLCs command a majority share of market capitalisation and key sectors of the economy including natural resources, utilities, construction and finance. Policies that reinforce GLC dominance stifle innovative and dynamic small and medium enterprises and competitiveness.

As Woo says, ‘GLCs may perform well in theory, but they don’t in practice — officials inevitably use them for political patronage and personal corruption. GLCs are political creatures, not economic instruments … Downsizing the state-related sector through privatisation is necessary for economic efficiency, political accountability and income equality’.

The government has acknowledged the problem but has been tentative in its approach to this critical reform. Its first substantive policy announcements and budget provided a major setback, reinforcing the role of GLCs in ethnic Malay development strategies and increasing government dependence on GLC dividends. It’s unclear whether the government now has the clout and political fortitude to pursue a privatisation and competition agenda.

Decentralisation is more than just government ownership and power-sharing; it encompasses a shift in the mentality of government from one underpinned by heavy-handed direction to one of empowerment. This requires the creation of institutional and regulatory environments that empower people to shape the policies that affect them, private business and entrepreneurship to fuel the engine room of economic growth, and all levels of government to deliver an enabling environment in which private actors flourish.

Empowerment means replacing ethnic discrimination with inclusive approaches to policy making, lifting up all low-income households. It means constructing a tax and transfer system that reduces rather than perpetuates inequality and cost of living pressures, positively reshaping the social contract between taxpayers and government. And it requires liberating the education system from the mechanistic, dictatorial, one-size-fits-all approach that has prioritised a one-eyed conception of nation-building over the development of inquisitive and adaptable minds.

Effective governance starts with a recognition that meaningful reforms may not please everyone but if done well can benefit all. It requires the strength of conviction to stay the course in the face of interest group pressures, avoiding discouraging U-turns like abandoning intentions to sign the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It entails more than a solitary sugar tax to raise funds for development and social welfare when the tax revenue share of GDP is a third of the OECD average. And it requires delivering substantive reforms to education in the light (or in spite) of next month’s special task force report.

The government’s recent by-election defeat in Semenyih provides a wake-up call that its support among middle-class Malaysians depends on improving its performance not on disparaging its predecessor. That means harnessing the electorate’s heightened expectations towards charting a more prosperous course for the economy, governance and for the Malaysian people.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

 

Decentralisation the best bet for Malaysia’s growth

Author: by Dr. Wing Thye Woo, Sunway University

Malaysia’s burgeoning middle class has high expectations for future economic development. But the nation won’t escape the ‘middle-income trap’ and won’t have socially-inclusive growth under current government policies. A range of reforms that deliver decentralised decision-making is needed to build the knowledge-led economy to propel Malaysia to the next level of development.

A view of the Kuala Lumpur city skyline in Malaysia, 7 February 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin).

Malaysia’s current policy framework has its roots in the 1970 New Economic Policy (NEP) and its socio-political counterpart ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ (Supremacy of Malays). NEP has succeeded in building a large Malay middle class that is informed, skilled and confident about its identity. But it’s also well aware that these two policies rooted in the past are not capable of transforming Malaysia into a developed nation.

To meet these aspirations, reform is urgently needed in three key economic areas. Each area requires a common reform component: the careful entrenchment of decentralised decision-making.

First, the state’s administrative structure inhibits innovative policymaking and prevents effective oversight. The federal government is much larger and more cumbersome than state governments and has disproportionate power.

Image result for The Malaysian economy

Contrasting budgets and spending power reveal the imbalance between federal and state governments. The federal government has legal authority to impose income and sales taxes. But state governments must rely on land-related transactions and fees on small-ticket items like hawker licenses for independent revenue. The provision of most public services is done through branches of federal ministries operating at the state level.

State expenditure is determined by fiscal allocations from the federal government to state governments, and the amounts allocated depend on political considerations. Under the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government, opposition-controlled states received budgetary allocations that were proportionately much smaller than BN-controlled states. State governments are banned from borrowing to finance development projects, and that means they are unable to raise revenue to build the infrastructure needed to clear production bottlenecks in local industries.

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Growth requires state governments that are empowered to plan and implement their own development strategies. Effective decentralisation requires each state government to have its own civil service. States will also need much larger shares of tax revenue, based on factors like developmental stage and tax revenue contribution. They should also be allowed to borrow to finance local infrastructure projects — with the commitment that there will be no federal bailouts — and be invested with significant responsibilities that are currently held by federal ministries.

The second key task is reforming government-linked corporations (GLCs). GLCs are crowding out the private sector, reducing economic dynamism. They also enable corruption that increases income inequality.

GLCs may perform well in theory, but they don’t in practice — officials inevitably use them for political patronage and personal corruption. GLCs are political creatures, not economic instruments.

Competition between GLCs and private firms is intrinsically unfair and harmful for overall growth. No matter how inefficient GLCs are, they can always count on government bailouts. They undermine economic dynamism by buying up their more efficient private competitors. Worse still, they prevent the development of a dynamic Malay business community by pulling capable Malays entrepreneurs away from starting private businesses and into cosy, life-long GLC jobs.

Downsizing the state-related sector through privatisation is necessary for economic efficiency, political accountability and income equality. The only two considerations in choosing buyers should be the size of the bid and the promotion of industry competition. A well-prepared and transparent privatisation process is more important than a speedy one.

The third key economic reform task is diversifying and expanding the banking system. The financial sector’s monopoly structure damages economic performance and worsens income inequality by suppressing the operations of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The 1997 Asian financial crisis convinced the Malaysian government that the banking system would be less prone to crisis if regulators could more easily monitor them. The result was the forced consolidation of smaller banks into 10 big banks in 2000.

This action made state investment companies the controlling shareholders in most commercial banks, effectively creating a state-owned banking monopoly. These banks are slow in adopting better payment practices and providing new financial products, shoddy in their treatment of small retail customers, and biased in lending towards GLCs. The small number of banks and the extent of state control in the largest banks are to blame.

One serious defect of the bank consolidation was that Malaysian SMEs began experiencing difficulties in getting capital from the large banks, replicating the international experience that SME financing comes mostly from small and medium-sized banks. In response, the Malaysian government established the state-owned SME Bank in 2005. But the SME Bank is not meeting the sector’s capital needs. It also has the highest non-performing loan ratio in the banking industry. The slow growth of the SME sector means new Malay bus­­­inesses are not emerging and the distribution of income is worsening.

Reforming the banking sector will mean allowing private small and medium-sized banks to exist again, reducing the government’s bank share holdings, and removing restrictions on foreign banks and their activities.

The NEP is essentially ‘Ketuanan Centralisation’ (Supremacy of Centralisation) in the economic sphere, manifesting as ‘Ketuanan Federal Government’ in governance, ‘Ketuanan GLC’ in production, and ‘Ketuanan Monopoly Bank’ in finance.

NEP cannot mobilise the entire brain-power of Malaysia for knowledge-creation because it prevents entrenchment of excellence in socio-economic institutions, and induces brain drain and capital flight. For Malaysia to escape the middle-income trap, ‘Ketuanan Centralisation’ must be purged from the public policy framework to make way for knowledge-led growth.

Wing Thye Woo is President of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia and Director of the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University and Professor of Economics at the University of California at Davis; he holds adjunct academic positions at Fudan University and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

 

 

EU- Cambodia Relations–The EU should do the right Thing– Respect Cambodia’s sovereignty


March 8, 2019

EU- Cambodia Relations

The EU should do the right thing– Respect Cambodia’s sovereignty

By Kimkong Heng
Image result for cambodia and eu
The European Union’s coercive measures or scare tactics do not seem to yield intended results as the Cambodian government refuses to give in to the EU’s demands for improving core human rights and labour rights in the Kingdom. Xinhua

Though the European Union could succeed in withdrawing Cambodia’s EBA status, the EU also has to be prepared to accept the fact that it could fail to reverse the perceived deterioration of human rights and democracy in the country, argues Kimkong Heng. 

The European Union (EU) and Cambodia are now engaged in what can be seen as a tug of war for influence and sovereignty, respectively. Despite unequal power relations, both sides are apparently trying to strengthen their stances against one another.

While the EU demands that the Cambodian government reverses Cambodia’s democratic drift and improve the country’s human and political rights situation, the Kingdom wants the EU not to interfere in its internal affairs. Both parties appear not to understand or seemingly ignore each other’s calls and look set to proceed with their own agendas, understanding, and assumptions.

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In response to Cambodia’s crackdown on dissent and the dissolution of the leading opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the EU announced last October that it would begin a formal process to withdraw its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme from Cambodia. On February 11, it kicked off a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s preferential, tariff-free access to the EU market. The EU stated that the removal of Cambodia’s EBA status is only “the option of last resort”.

Cambodia has firmly responded to the EU’s EBA threat. The country has condemned the EU’s demands, regarding it as an “extreme injustice” and “acts of interference” in Cambodia’s domestic affairs. Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly maintained that Cambodia will not “exchange national sovereignty with aid”.

As it now stands, the EU seems to have no other choice but to eventually withdraw its trade privileges from Cambodia, if no concrete measures are taken by the Cambodian government to address the EU’s concerns and demands. The Kingdom, however, is presented with limited options and the lack of willingness to manage the EU’s demands is because Cambodia views such actions as a practice of “double standards”.

Thus, while the world’s largest trading bloc criticizes the Southeast Asian nation for engaging in human rights violations, the latter sees such criticism as an injustice and interference. Each side no doubt sees the same issue from different angles, the result of which is a failure to engage in channels of dialogue at both bilateral and multilateral levels.

In this regard, it seems sensible that both parties take a step back and rethink their own approach. The EU’s coercive measures or scare tactics do not seem to yield intended results as the Cambodian government refuses to give in to the EU’s demands for improving core human rights and labour rights in the Kingdom. Cambodia’s “sovereignty-maintaining approach” does not seem to turn out to be effective, either.

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If both sides proceed with their plans and stick to their own terms, it will lead to a lose-lose scenario that is in no one’s interests. Clearly the suspension of Cambodia’s EBA status will definitely damage relations between Cambodia and the EU. Cambodia will draw closer to China, its closest ally and largest economic and military benefactor, at the expense of its relations with the West. The EU, together with the United States, surely would not want Cambodia to alienate them and fully embrace Beijing.

Cambodia also does not want to break with the West, but the incumbent government led by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) seems to have other more important priorities than its diplomatic relations with the EU and the US. Political domination and maintenance of peace and sovereignty are seen as number one priorities for the CPP-led government.

As argued in a recent article in the Bangkok Post, the CPP is “willing to lose the EBA status in exchange for getting rid of the opposition party” so that its dominance in Cambodian politics will not be undermined. This statement has implications for the EU.

Rather than moving ahead with its forceful approach to suspend Cambodia’s EBA trade benefits, the EU should perhaps consider alternative measures that would have consequences for the ruling elites, not the ordinary Cambodians. It is agreeable that withdrawing Cambodia’s EBA privileges will most likely have negative impacts on nearly one million Cambodian garment workers, most of whom are women. The chance that such measures would adversely affect the financial standing of the CPP elites is slim.

Thus, it is arguably more judicious that the EU direct its actions toward the CPP leadership rather than threaten the mainstay of Cambodia’s economy. The EU should try to understand Cambodia and what Hun Sen’s government wants and is willing to lose. For the time being, losing the EBA benefits perhaps does not cause great concern for the Cambodian government in the same way as losing votes and political domination.

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Whether one likes it or not, a warning by Prime Minister Hun Sen that the withdrawal of EBA scheme from Cambodia could amount to the West’s third mistake may become true, if the EU succeeds in withdrawing the Kingdom’s EBA status but fails to reverse the perceived deterioration of human rights and democracy in this Asian country.

The EU, taking into account this scenario, may consider rethinking its approach to dealing with Cambodia. Instead of jeopardizing its relations with the Kingdom and compelling this small and open economy to have no hesitation in further embracing China, the EU as a major international actor has the responsibility to bring about hope and prosperity to people of all nations, and Cambodians are no exception.

Kimkong Heng is a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland and a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship.

 

To Lose or Not to Lose: Cambodia’s Dilemma over its EBA Status


February 27, 2019

To Lose or Not to Lose: Cambodia’s Dilemma over its EBA Status

By Kimkong Heng

 

http://www.ippreview.com

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2019/02/27/to-lose-or-not-to-lose-cambodias-dilemma-over-its-eba-status/

Image result for cambodia eu

William Shakespeare’s famous quote, “to be or not to be, that is the question”, can now be applied to what is happening in Cambodia, but with a twist. As the country is now negotiating with the European Union (EU) regarding the latter’s wish to strip off its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences from the former, we can see the relevance of Shakespeare’s well known line and we can say “to lose or not to lose, that is a Cambodian dilemma”.

After the EU threatened to remove its preferential trade deal in response to Phnom Penh’s perceived lack of commitment to improve its democracy and human rights situation, the country now faces a dilemma. On one side, Cambodia has to satisfy the demands of the EU, which may eventually result in the reinstatement of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), dissolved by the Cambodian Supreme Court in 2017. This is a dilemma on the part of the incumbent Cambodian government because, as the results of the 2013 national election and 2017 local elections showed, the CNRP could be a threat to the domination of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Dissolving the opposition before the election is clearly a win-win strategy that the CPP employed to secure victory. Reinstating it is certainly not part of the government’s agenda.

On the other side of the dilemma, Cambodia is facing a potential loss of its EBA status after the EU began a procedure to withdraw its trade preferences from the Kingdom in October 2018. Under the EBA scheme, Cambodia being one of the world’s least developed countries is granted with duty-free access to the European market. In 2017 Cambodia’s exports to the EU were valued at 5 billion euros (US$5.8 billion), making Europe the largest export market of Cambodia. The garment and footwear industries, which account for 40 percent of Cambodia’s GDP and employ about 800,000 Cambodian workers, rely to a great extent on tariff-free exports to Europe. Losing the EBA preferences would adversely impact the whole industry which is vital to Cambodia’s economy and has been considered as a sector too big to fail.

Thus, Cambodia is apparently in a dilemma over how to tackle the EBA issue. To continue benefiting from the EU trade preferences, the CPP-led government has to consider bringing back the dissolved opposition, a move Hun Sen and his ruling elites have tried to avoid. However, if Hun Sen’s government refuses to give in to the EU’s human rights demands, it will risk losing the EBA status, the consequences of which may be severe for Cambodia’s economic growth. As it stands, it is no longer a win-win scenario for the Cambodian government. It is a dilemma between sustaining robust economic growth and maintaining political dominance, both of which are critical to the incumbent government’s legitimacy.

Cambodia’s responses to the EU’s potential economic sanctions have been contradictory, perhaps reflecting this dilemma. As David Hutt aptly noted, the Cambodian government’s response to the EBA issue “has oscillated between victimhood and vainglory, between saying Cambodia’s economy won’t be too badly affected by the EBA’s withdrawal and saying that if the EU goes ahead with its threat, it will destroy of livelihoods of millions of Cambodians, mostly the poor”.

The inconsistency in the government’s response may explain the dilemma confronting Hun Sen and the CPP elites. Clearly the Cambodian government understands the potential negative effects that the loss of the EBA scheme may have on the lucrative garment sector that has contributed to Cambodia’s economic growth and directly benefited almost a million garment workers, not to mention the cumulative impact on their extended family. The promulgation by the government that losing the EBA preferences won’t affect Cambodia is far from convincing. How can losing tariff-free export ability not affect the economy that benefits from tariff-free exports? It is not so difficult to comprehend.

After the EU announcement regarding the EBA withdrawal, there have been strong reactions by the Cambodian government and a series of analyses in the media about the EU’s double standards in its treatment of Cambodia. The Cambodian government has called the EU’s EBA threat an extreme injustice and a prejudicial decision. Hun Sen has warned of the death of the opposition and has been reported saying that the EU’s withdrawal of its trade preferences may become the West’s third mistake in dealing with Cambodia.

While Cambodia is facing a dilemma and may easily look to China for support, the EU should probably understand the potential repercussions of its decision.

However, lingering uncertainty regarding the eventual outcome of the EBA withdrawal, coupled with the EU’s recent announcement to implement protectionist tariffs on Cambodia’s rice exports, has worried investors and business leaders in Cambodia. In late January 2019, 40 signatory leaders of industry associations who represent the Cambodian economic community released a joint statement to the EU Trade Commissioner to express their deep concerns with respect to the potential imposition of tariffs and withdrawal of the EBA scheme. The statement appealed to the European Commission and the European member states to continue to support Cambodia by “refraining from taking any action that will harm the interests and livelihoods of the country’s [Cambodia] people”. The EU has not officially responded to the appeal but seems to proceed with its formal procedure to withdraw the EBA benefits from Cambodia; nevertheless, according to the EU, the channels of dialogue to resolve the difference are still kept open.

Although it remains to be seen how this EBA issue will unfold, Cambodia’s recent response to the EU’s calls does not seem to be effective and satisfy the EU’s demands. The Cambodian government has viewed the EU’s dealing with Cambodia as an injustice and a threat to Cambodia’s sovereignty and independence. Complying with the EU requirements, in the Cambodian ruling elites’ view, is like allowing foreign countries or entities to interfere with Cambodian politics or domestic affairs. Cambodia cannot trade its sovereignty, independence, and peace for economic assistance.

Such a line of thinking is applaudable and is well-received by Cambodians, but as has been spelled out in a recent article, “EBA is not a trade pact open to negotiations – it is a trade preference gifted to financially impoverished countries and designed to encourage democratic and social reforms more attuned with European standards”. Therefore, it seems appropriate when the EU demands improvements to the human rights situation in Cambodia. If Cambodia wishes to remain part of this preferential scheme, it has to meet the conditions laid out by the EU with regard to the trade preferences. Cambodia does not have “inherent right to be part of the EBA scheme”.

Despite the dilemma, Cambodia seems to have a choice which, analyzed based on recent political developments, requires it to choose between losing the EBA status or improving the human and political rights situation in the country, perceived to be deteriorating. If no concrete measures are taken to salvage the current situation, losing the EBA benefits would be a high possibility. Cambodia apparently cannot continue to enjoy the duty-free access to the EU market while ignoring the EU’s demands for better human rights and democracy. The aim of EBA preferences is to contribute to the economic development of the world’s poorest countries; however, the preferential scheme does come with conditions that have to be fulfilled by beneficiary countries.

Based on the current development, the EU’s intention to withdraw its special trade preferences granted to Cambodia does have implications for the relationship between the two sides. In the Cambodian government’s words, the EU decision to suspend the EBA preferences would “nullify the enormous positive impact of the European policy from which Cambodia has benefited so far”. The EU measures would also very likely propel Cambodia into a closer embrace of China, its largest aid donor and foreign investor.

Thus, while Cambodia is facing a dilemma and may easily look to China for support, the EU should probably understand the potential repercussions of its decision. Both sides need to bring the issue to the discussion table and continue to keep the path of dialogue open. The way forward, as the EU has suggested, is through dialogue and negotiation. The EU, however, should try harder to understand Cambodia’s difficulty and situation, while Cambodia has to keep an open mind and try to understand the underlying intention of the EU actions with trust and willingness. Going to the discussion table with suspicion, distrust, and accusation is not a viable option, but it only helps to exacerbate the precarious situation.

 

A Trade Deal with China will require a more comprehensive approach, based on a fundamental shift in mindset say, Andrew Sheng and Xiao


February 23, 2019

trump xi jinping

A Trade Deal with China will require a more comprehensive approach, based on a fundamental shift in mindset, say Andrew Sheng and Xiao

 

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-zero-sum-approach-china-trade-talks-by-andrew-sheng-and-xiao-geng-2019-02

In the ongoing US-China trade talks, considerable progress has been made on several key trade issues, such as intellectual-property rights protection. But to defuse tensions in any sustainable way will require a more comprehensive approach, based on a fundamental shift in mindset.

HONG KONG – Trade negotiations between the United States and China are closing in on the March 1 deadline, after which the bilateral tariff war will resume – beginning with an increase from 10% to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese products. While global financial markets are fluctuating wildly, investors seem to assume that too much is at stake for the US and China to fail to reach a deal. Their optimism could prove short-lived.

To be sure, there has been considerable progress on several key issues, such as technology transfer, protection of intellectual-property rights, non-tariff barriers, and implementation mechanisms. But to defuse tensions between the US and China in any sustainable way will require a more comprehensive approach, based on a fundamental shift in mindset.

Over the last 40 years, Sino-US engagement has been largely cooperative, reflecting a holistic approach that takes into account the interests of the entire global system. US President Donald Trump’s administration, however, does not seem to believe that engagement with China (or anyone else for that matter) can benefit both sides. As Trump’s “America First” agenda shows, the US is now playing a zero-sum game – and it is playing to win.

For example, the US has threatened to punish or desert its closest allies unless they increase their defense spending. Under pressure from the Trump administration, South Korea just agreed to increase its contributions to US forces in Korea by 8.2%, to $923 million, in 2019.

Similarly, Trump has repeatedly disparaged fellow NATO members for insufficient defense spending. Most recently, Trump has criticized Germany for spending only 1% of GDP for defense, compared to America’s 4.3%. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by condemning US isolationism at the Munich Security Conference, and calling for the revival of multilateral cooperation.

The Trump administration’s myopic approach is also apparent in its preoccupation with bilateral trade imbalances. Any US deficit with another economy is, from Trump’s perspective, a loss. Given this, if China agrees to cut its bilateral trade deficit with the US, other economies with bilateral surpluses vis-à-vis the US – including close allies, such as the European Union and Japan – may find themselves facing intensifying pressure to do the The weakening of trade that could result in this scenario would compound existing negative pressure on global growth, hurting everyone. A global economic downturn is the last thing the world needs at a time when it is already beset with risks, including a possible no-deal Brexit and populist gains in the European Parliament election in May.

Of course, while Trump does not spare his allies, his primary target remains China. After all, the competition between the US and China extends far beyond trade. Although the US maintains military, technological, financial, and soft-power superiority, China has been steadily catching up, leading to bipartisan support in the US for a more confrontational approach.

Last October, US Vice President Mike Pence bluntly accused China of technology theft, predatory economic expansion, and military aggression. Pence’s stance echoed the fears of the US national security community. As former US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter put it, “Because it is a Communist dictatorship, China is able to bring to bear on US companies and our trading partners a combination of political, military, and economic tools that a government such as ours cannot match. This puts us at an inherent disadvantage.”

And yet America’s tools are hardly useless. The US authorities have mobilized a broad range of domestic and international resources – from law and diplomacy to national security measures – to stop the overseas expansion of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. If Western countries allow Huawei to build their 5G infrastructure, America’s hawks and their allies argue, they will be vulnerable to cyberattacks from China in some future war.

All of this has shaken business and market confidence to the core, wiping out trillions of dollars in market capitalization. And the Trump administration’s apparent insistence that countries choose sides in its dispute with China is further heightening fears. As the rest of the world’s trading countries understand, Trump’s approach will fragment business and reverse the globalization-enabled economies of scale that have fueled growth for decades.

“Ending the Sino-US trade war will require considerable statesmanship on the part of Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But, beyond that, both sides need to recognize that supporting global peace and prosperity requires less ideology and more respect for diversity of political, social, and cultural systems. Failing that, the fault lines will continue to deepen – much as they did in the 1930s – potentially setting the stage for full-blown war”- .

More broadly, the Trump administration’s rejection of multilateralism undermines the global cooperation needed to confront a range of issues, including migration, poverty and inequality, climate change, and the challenges raised by new technologies. Trump’s focus on geopolitical rivalry – and the associated rise in security and defense spending – will dramatically reduce resources available for global public goods, such as infrastructure investment and poverty-reduction programs.

 

Navigating ASEAN’s economic priorities


February 14, 2019

Navigating ASEAN’s economic priorities

By  Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit, RSIS

Southeast Asian economies may face major economic headwinds this year amid US–China trade tensions and US Federal Reserve interest rate increases. To help weather the impact, ASEAN member states should prioritise progress on regional economic initiatives.

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Some observers think that the 90-day truce between Washington and Beijing could beget better relations between the two powers. But they may be overestimating China’s ability to make concessions that fulfil what the Trump administration wants. Buying more American products is easy, but implementing measures to address ‘unfair’ trade practices to a degree that satisfies the United States is more difficult to achieve within 90 days. More rounds of tariff escalations or other trade-restricting measures could be in the offing.

On the financial front, in December 2018 the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates from 2.25 to 2.50 per cent and forecast the possibility of further increases in 2019. The Fed did so to ensure there will be room for it to use monetary policy and decrease interest rates to fight the next US recession.

Additional hikes could trigger capital pull-outs from Southeast Asian countries as investors move funds to seek higher yields in the United States. If not well-managed, such capital outflows may instigate financial instability in the ASEAN region.

Regional economies must brace themselves for future economic and financial turbulence. While they are unlikely to be able to avoid such headwinds, ASEAN member states can nevertheless cushion the impact through regional initiatives: the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2025, ASEAN–Hong Kong Free Trade and Investment Agreements (AHKFTA and AHKIA), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM).

Policymakers should prioritise the complete implementation of the AEC 2025. This is a regional economic integration project by the 10 ASEAN member states designed to achieve five objectives: a highly integrated and cohesive economy; a competitive, innovative and dynamic ASEAN; enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation; a resilient, inclusive, people-oriented and people-centred ASEAN; and a global ASEAN.

Advancing the AEC 2025 will enable businesses to better tap into the integrated market of over 600 million people, rendering regional economies more resilient to the incoming headwinds.

Southeast Asian governments should also ratify the AHKFTA and AHKIA signed in November 2017 so that these treaties can enter into force in early 2019 as expected. The agreements will enhance cross-border flows of goods, services and investment between ASEAN and Hong Kong.

The agreements will not only allow firms to enjoy greater access to goods and services markets and better investment protection, but also enable ASEAN nations to further tighten trade and investment ties with China. The latter will help Southeast Asian economies to recuperate from any damage that future Washington–Beijing trade spats may inflict on them.

ASEAN authorities should also concentrate on wrapping up RCEP talks. If concluded, this 16-economy free trade bloc will encompass a market of 3.6 billion people that contributes to a third of global GDP. It will cover 29 per cent of global trade and 26 per cent of the world’s foreign direct investment flows.

Concluding the negotiation will create more opportunities for businesses to deepen their supply chains, and provide RCEP economies with another means to diversify their economic relations and cushion against the negative effects of future US–China trade war spats.

Finally, ASEAN nations together with China, Japan and South Korea (ASEAN+3) should advance the CMIM, a regional financial safety net under the ASEAN+3 framework. Launched in 2010, the scheme provides financial support through a network of currency swaps to help ASEAN+3 nations weather their balance-of-payments difficulties.

Because future Fed rate hikes could trigger investor panic leading to financial instability and capital flights in certain regional economies, the CMIM can provide financial assistance to alleviate such problems.

Admittedly, the above initiatives face their own challenges. A major hurdle for implementing the AEC 2025 is a lack of coordination among domestic ministries and agencies. Individual ASEAN countries must sort out how to improve coordination among the involved authorities. Certain domestic hurdles must also be cleared for a successful ratification of the ASEAN–Hong Kong treaties.

Planned elections in Australia, India, Indonesia and Thailand in 2019 may delay the conclusion of RCEP negotiations in the first half of 2019. Politicians in these nations will likely prioritise their electioneering over international matters. And if the momentum of RCEP talks picks up in the second-half of the year, the parties’ different positions and preferences will still need to be reconciled to seal the deal.

Regarding the CMIM, while a laudable agreement was signed in December 2018 to create more favourable conditions that will enable the regional financial safety net to better assist in a crisis, efforts to advance other aspects of the CMIM have been lacklustre in recent years.

For one, its size has remained the same at US$240 billion since 2012. With this amount, the scheme can at best provide simultaneous lending support to a few small- and medium-sized economies should they come under a crisis. The participants must push for an expansion of the CMIM’s size.

US–China trade tensions and Fed rate hikes will likely generate undesired effects for Southeast Asian economies this year. Despite the challenges of the above initiatives, ASEAN countries must collectively pursue them to navigate through the coming economic headwinds. Time is running out and policymakers must act fast.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/02/11/navigating-aseans-economic-priorities

Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit is Deputy Head and Assistant Professor at the Centre for Multilateralism Studies, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

 

Cambodia’s Economy is improving: PM Hun Sen


February 13, 2019

Cambodia’s Economy is improving: PM Hun Sen

by Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
 

Prime Minister Hun Sen today reiterated that he will not use the country’s independence and sovereignty to exchange with trade, noting the economy is improving.

Mr Hun Sen posted message on his Facebook, saying that the Kingdom’s current political, social, and economic situation has been improving, noting that tax revenue is gradually increasing.

“Cambodia cannot depend on only foreign support and the country must not use its independence and sovereignty to exchange for anything,” he said, “However, we want to be good friends with partner countries which want to see Cambodia grow without any interference in its internal affairs.”

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Phnom Penh-2019
“Cambodia’s economy, which was previously hit by sanctions and pressure, is now growing and becomes stronger,” he said, “[I] thank business people, traders and investors for fulfilling their tax obligations and expanding trade and investment in the country.”

PM Hun Sen noted the Kingdom once was a poor country and gradually gained an economic growth by about 7 percent.

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He said that Cambodia will become an average income country by 2030 and high income by 2050 thanks to higher tax revenues.

Mr Hun Sen’s comment came after the European Union on Monday started the process of intense monitoring and engagement for six months that could lead to the suspension of Cambodia’s preferential access to the market under the Everything-but-arms (EBA) scheme due to perceived setbacks to democracy and human rights.

The EU market accounted for 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports, rising 227 percent between 2011 and 2016, and reaching $5.77 billion in value in 2017 alone.

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The US embassy in Cambodia today issued a press statement, voicing its concerns about violation of human rights and labour rights in Cambodia over the past 18 months.

“We share the EU’s concerns about serious violations of freedom of expression, internationally recognized labor rights, and freedom of association,” the statement said, “The United States calls on Cambodian leaders to restore a true, multi-party democracy, as enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution.”

https://www.khmertimeskh.com/577213/kingdoms-economy-is-improving-pm/