Prime Minister Hun Sen on November 10 reiterated a call on the ASEAN countries to continue to uphold the principles of a multilateral trading system and enhance trade liberalisation, and spurred the private sector on to invest more to accelerate post-Covid-19 economic recovery.

The premier was speaking at the opening session of the second of the two-day ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ABIS) 2022, in Phnom Penh.

Although the Covid-19 crisis has significantly abated across the world, the global economic situation and outlook remain vulnerable and delicate, while the region is confronted with an incrementally complex web of geopolitical, socio-economic and environmental challenges, he said.

“In this sense, ASEAN must continue adhering to the principles of [a] multilateral trading system and enhancing trade liberalisation, to promote ASEAN as an open, transparent and inclusive region while maintaining [centrality and unity in the bloc] in building global and regional relations.

“ASEAN must also update existing free trade agreements [FTA] and comprehensive economic partnership agreements [CEPA] to ensure that these agreements are modern, up-to-date, improved and effectively responsive to current business and investment trends,” Hun Sen said.

A CEPA is a type of FTA generally designed for a more holistic coverage beyond just commodities, and can contain provisions for services,investments, dispute resolution, intellectual property rights, government procurement, and additional forms of specialised economic cooperation.

The premier lauded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – the world’s largest trade pact, involving the 10 ASEAN member states and five additional Asia-Pacific nations – as a “crucial achievement” for the Southeast Asian bloc that is in step with its individual countries’ efforts to “open up the economy and diversify our regional markets”.

“I firmly believe that this huge free trade agreement will boost trade activities both inside and outside of ASEAN, as well as promote broader regional economic integration.

“Our achievement in economic recovery as well as the resumption of socio-economic activities in the region would not have been made possible without the active participation of the private sector,” Hun Sen said.

At the same session, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council’s (ASEAN-BAC) rotating chairman Kith Meng underlined that post-Covid economic recovery remains a top priority for the bloc’s apex private sector body.

He commented that this year has been marked by regional turbulence arising from rising inflation, the restless global geopolitical climate, supply chain disruptions, and diverging progress in resuming pre-Covid economic activity levels.

“As our economies are struggling to get back on our feet it is imperative that we come together to not only address these challenges but also prepare for a future that is increasingly digital, and one that is climate friendly,” said Meng, who is also the chairman of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC), the Kingdom’s apex trade body.

“With this in mind, we have crafted a programme that seeks to help us better understand what is happening in ASEAN and the key issues we all need to be aware of to plan for 2023,” Meng said, most likely referring to the preparation of the agenda for ABIS 2022, which was hosted by the CCC.

The prime minister added that, with the objective of promoting resilient, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, the government adopted the new “Law on Investment” and set out “The Strategic Framework and Programmes for Economic Recovery in the Context of Living with Covid-19 in a New Normal 2021-2023”.

He said the government “has also been striving to increase investment in infrastructure development – both physical and digital – to improve the quality of logistics services, to enhance the efficiency of public services, to promote skill development and to modernise the social protection system”.

Singapore-based ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) recently predicted that the ASEAN economy would grow 5.3 per cent and 4.9 per cent in 2022 and 2023, respectively, noting that these rates were up from the 2021 figure of 3.1 per cent. The 2021 nominal gross domestic product (GDP) for the bloc was $3.359 trillion, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).