Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 9 proposed that the leaders of the five inland ASEAN countries devote more resources to promoting digital commerce as a driving force for post-Covid-19 recovery.

The appeal was made during the closing ceremony of the 9th ACMECS Summit, held under the theme “Partnership for Connectivity and Resilience” via video link.

The five countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand (often called CLMVT) – are members of the political, economic and cultural Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) organisation.

Hun Sen said: “Against the backdrop of a post-Covid-19 horizon, we are expected to become increasingly more dependent on the digital economy.

“ACMECS countries should be more proactive in promoting diversification strategies to promote trade investment complementarities, especially in relation to new market opportunities under the recently signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] agreement.

“Obviously, the digital economy will unleash the unlimited market potential for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises [MSMEs] to expand their businesses through e-commerce and other online activities without having to travel or move anywhere.

“In this sense, there is no doubt that MSMEs will continue to be key players in the market and major drivers of economic growth, promoting education through e-learning platforms and providing benefits to the business community.”

Referring to one of the three pillars of ACMECS’ master plan for 2019-2023, the prime minister added: “We need to adopt modern technology and turn major cities into multi-purpose hubs that connect the ACMECS sub-regional market with the greater ASEAN and those in neighbouring countries in order to achieve a ‘smart and sustainable ACMECS’.

The other two pillars are “seamless connectivity” and “synchronised ACMECS economies”.

ACMECS was established in April 2003 in a bid to bridge the economic gap among its five member states and to build sustainable prosperity in the sub-region.

A rice-exporting juggernaut, CLMVT produces 55 million tonnes of milled rice per annum, or 13 per cent of the world’s product, and exports 13 million tonnes annually, or 45 per cent of the world’s exports, Hun Sen said in November 2010 at a summit held at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.

Cheunboran Chanborey, a programme director at Phnom Penh-based think tank Asian Vision Institute, said at a virtual panel discussion last month that not all changes in the supply chain had been detrimental to the ACMECS countries.

He called on the ACMECS to harness the unprecedented opportunity created by Covid-19 and to promote financial technology as a key enabler of economic recovery.

“We should see the changes in the regional and global supply chains as opportunities for us to promote the intra-Mekong regional supply chain and production network.

“We also need to encourage financial connectivity through fintech across the five regional countries. Financial access is also the key required to unlock economic recovery and the effort needed to address the economic hardships of the people across the region,” Chanborey said.

There is no financial mechanism in ACMECS to raise capital to finance development projects, which have typically been funded through loans and aid from partner countries, Thailand’s The Nation has pointed out.

Cambodia also announced that it will contribute $7 million as seed money to set up the ACMECS Development Fund (ACMDF).

The initial amount of the ACMECS fund will start at $500 million, The Nation reported in June last year.

Thailand will contribute $200 million and the other four countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam – will together contribute $100 million, it said. The remaining $200 million will be contributed by development partner countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US.

Chanborey said: “I look forward to welcoming the voluntary contribution from the part of other members to the ACMECS Development Fund.

“With sufficient contributions and a competent executive board, I am very optimistic that we can start smoothly implementing the priority projects under the 2019-2023 master plan.”