Latest ASEAN news

Competition to Publicise High Quality of Lao Coffee

The quality of the coffee produced in Laos will be demonstrated and promoted to local and international markets through the second Lao Green Coffee Competition and online Auction. The event will take place this month and the winning grower will be announced later next month, according to the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI).

The coffee program is part of a larger, multi-year intergovernmental effort to strengthen Lao PDR’s agricultural sector while promoting economic growth and international trade. CQI is applying its coffee connections and expertise to the coffee project, which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture-funded CLEAN project, being implemented by the nonprofit Winrock International in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Agriculture, and the Laos Coffee Association (LCA).

The inaugural Lao PDR green coffee competition last year saw coffees that scored well into the mid-80s, including both arabica and robusta varieties. This year, an auction component is being made possible through the Arise Plus Laos PDR project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the International Trade Centre.

“The institute anticipates 50 specialty arabica and fine robusta samples this year and wants this competition to shine a spotlight on the coffee produced by Lao farmers. They produce great coffee, but it is almost unknown outside of Laos. It’s time to change that,” Ms Conway said. Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, Mr Bounchan Kombounyasith, said “In line with the Lao Coffee Sector Export Roadmap (2021-2025), this competition supports the development of the coffee sector as a specialty coffee source and will help to ensure that activities sustain quality standards and phytosanitary measures for export to the US, Europe and Asian markets and provide farmers with better incomes.”

Source: ECCIL 

Malaysia looks to emulate Thailand's digital park

BANGKOK (April 26): Malaysia is looking to emulate Thailand's True Digital Park in Bangkok to drive the development of start-up and innovation ecosystems.

Spanning over 200,000 square metres in the heart of Bangkok CyberTech District, the campus is Thailand's first and Southeast Asia's largest tech and start-up campus, which is primarily driven by the private sector.

The campus is an interconnected ecosystem for start-ups and tech entrepreneurs, tech companies, investors, accelerators, incubators, academies, and government agencies to co-exist in Bangkok that help drive Thailand to become a global hub for digital innovation.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the campus with its state-of-the-art facilities would build a complete start-up ecosystem to drive the regional digital economy forward.

"The concept is good as it is funded by the private sector and facilitated by the government. If possible, we would like to duplicate the model to encourage start-up and innovative companies in the country," he told Bernama.

Mustapa was very impressed with the campus during his visit to the True Digital Park in the heart of the Bangkok CyberTech District in Phra Khanong on April 22. He was given a briefing by the president of the True Digital Park, Thanasorn Jaidee, to be followed by a tour of the digital park.

The digital park consists of the innovation area (academies, labs), lifestyle area (retail, food and beverages, and wellness) and residential area (three high-rise condominiums), event space, co-working spaces, flexible office spaces, and government digital one-stop services.

The park currently boasts over 1,000 ecosystem players that include 900 start-ups, 52 corporate tenants and partners, 29 universities and academies, and 17 government agencies and associations. Among the big names in the park are Google, Mitsubishi, Huawei, UOB, Bosch, and Ricoh.

The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA), another government agency, is also present in the park. It is responsible for developing Thailand's digital manpower and promoting the industry. Foreign tenants can apply for smart visas through DEPA's office in the True Digital Park.

The agency also acts like an investor because it is "the only government organisation" that can hold equity from start-ups. The agency assists start-ups from "the moment they're born until they become a unicorn" and in various other ways such as providing industry connections and mentorship.

On Malaysia emulating the True Digital Park, MyDigital Corp chief executive officer Fabian Bigar said the private sector will definitely need to evaluate the merits of such a venture.

"The minister was very impressed with the campus which was totally developed by the private sector and commented that this type of development should be emulated in Malaysia.

"MyDigital Corp is ready to implement any decision of the cabinet," he said.

Boosting trade and investment will fuel Malaysia's recovery and growth

ALTHOUGH not spared from the brunt of the economic impact as a result of Covid-19, Malaysia has remained resilient in its underlying economic fundamentals supported by the various measures introduced by the government to cushion the economic fallout. 

The country's medium-term prospects also remain intact. But to ensure sustainable growth, Malaysia needs to boost its trade and investment connections.

Ongoing government trade and investment reform will be critical to paving the way to facilitate further tariff removals or simplifying non-tariff barriers, and removing investment thresholds.

Ratifying the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement is a step in the right direction as it can help to reduce trade costs for businesses by seeking to eliminate many of the barriers within the region, whilst simultaneously opening Malaysia up to more trade activity across some of its major trade partners.

RCEP itself with its 15-member country composition, accounts for about 30 per cent of the world's population and 30 per cent of global GDP, and is the first free trade agreement among the largest economies in Asia, comprising Australia, New Zealand, the Asean bloc, China, Japan and South Korea.

As a strategic hub in Asean with strong economic fundamentals, Malaysia is ideally positioned to bolster its cross-border trade and economic ties with RCEP partners.

The country's access to a wider RCEP market presents businesses here with opportunities to grow their presence across the region and will also facilitate enhanced access for RCEP members who are looking to invest in Malaysia.

Ramping up Malaysia's efforts to magnetise foreign direct investment (FDI) will also be critical, particularly against a backdrop of shrinking global FDI supply and an increasingly competitive landscape.

Significant progress has been made with Bank Negara Malaysia further liberalising foreign exchange policy support, facilitating a more conducive environment for domestic and cross-border economic activities.

But more needs to be done to Malaysia's investment frameworks to make it easier for MNCs to invest in the country. Examples of how this can be carried out include making revisions to negative investment lists, providing tax incentives for certain sectors, streamlining processes to hasten investment approvals and bureaucratic roadblocks and accelerating the development of the country's talent and workforce.

While these issues have been raised in the past and are being considered by the relevant departments, there is a very strong impetus for the proposed reforms to be converted into reality.

At the same time, companies that are looking to invest in Malaysia are finding themselves in an environment very different from the one prior to the outbreak.

How to adapt and what to prioritise in these new conditions are pressing strategic questions that will affect how these organisations position themselves for the future.

From a banking perspective, some of the most critical areas that are seen to affect companies include access to financing, enhancing the integration of technology into business and adopting sustainable financial solutions.

Access to financing

The Malaysian capital market is one of the most liquid and developed in the region. The heightened demand for good quality bond and sukuk issuances, and increasingly green and sustainable financing options, reinforces the accessibility and efficiency of the country's capital market along with the strong interest of the investment community even against challenging market conditions.

The Securities Commission's Capital Market Masterplan (CMP3) will play a critical role in leveraging the strengths and potential of the Malaysian capital market to accelerate economic growth that is sustainable and inclusive. This will be critical to supporting banks as they look to raise the funds required by corporates to finance their business growth and investments.

Enhancing the integration of technology into business

Over the last two years, we have seen how Covid-19 has turbo-charged the integration of technology into business, enabling organisations to build resilience as well as presenting new opportunities for growth – particularly in areas such as capitalising on a growing e-commerce consumer population and taking advantage of supply chains which have been revolutionised by technology.

The accelerated digitisation of financial services has been a crucial factor in enabling corporates to expand their business both into and beyond Malaysia's borders. This has fuelled an increased demand for digital banking solutions, and platform-enabled seamless cross border solutions.

Intensified investor appetite for sustainable financial products

The awareness of environmental threats has permeated the financial sector with capital market decisions now being based on risk, return and impact. Simultaneously, the rise of social and sustainability-linked instruments has expanded the scope of funding to a broader range of environmental and social benefits.

Additionally, investors are demanding for more information about company performance, risks, opportunities, and long-term prospects than before. Raising capital will be more difficult for companies who do not have a clear sustainable transition plan. All this has resulted in intensified investor appetite for green and sustainable financial products.

The fundamental building blocks of Malaysia's economic success are not only still intact; in many ways they have been strengthened by the pandemic. But if the country is to reap the full benefits and opportunities for recovery and development, it will have to regain its traditional growth drivers of trade and investment. This will include focusing on strategic growth areas to attract overseas investment.

Robust Malaysia trade momentum seen, exports up 10%

Malaysia's trade momentum is expected to be robust with economists projecting exports growth at 9.2-10 per cent this year.

Amid some headwinds, they noted that exports would be driven by electrical and electronics (E&E) and commodity-based products. Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, has forecast exports rising by 10.9 per cent this year.

RAM Rating Services Bhd economist Nadia Mazlan expected exports to remain strong due to the high commodity prices as well as ongoing semiconductor supercycle.

The higher prices of crude oil and crude palm oil will likely lend support to exports in the short term, offsetting some of the slower demand arising from the continued supply chain issues.

“Export activity will also expand as E&E exporters continue to fulfil backlogged orders,” she told StarBiz.

In March, E&E exports surged 32.8 per cent year-on-year leading to a stronger-than-expected total export growth of 25.4 per cent year-on-year, double that of the Reuters consensus of 12.5 per cent.

Imports would move in tandem with export performance, largely supported by the demand for intermediate parts and supplies to fulfil export orders, particularly for E&E goods, she added.

However, Nadia said while exports and imports would remain strong this year, growth would likely moderate this year due to the high base in 2021 as well as dampening demand arising from the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Bank Islam (M) Bhd chief economist Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid, who is forecasting a 10 per cent growth for exports this year, expected export growth be driven by E&E products and commodity-based products this year.

He said: “The proliferation of technology will continue and this will effectively create demand for microchips that will involve integrated circuits and parts. This will also benefit the nation’s oil and gas [O&G] and plantation sector exports. In a way, Malaysia is in a sweet spot.”

OCBC Bank economist Wellian Wiranto said domestic exports would broadly benefit from the twin engines of commodities and semiconductor demand.

However, he said the pace of growth may be curtailed compared with last year given the spectre of slowing demand in major economies, as illustrated by the considerable downgrade of global growth forecast by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently.

“Lingering labour shortage issues that affect corners of Malaysia’s production, including palm oil, for example, may act as hindrance to further upticks in exports growth this year,” Wellian added. OCBC Bank is projecting exports to grow by 10 per cent this year.

IMF has trimmed its global growth forecast to 4.4 per cent from 4.9 per cent for this year due to increasing uncertainty in global demand. Global growth was 5.9 per cent in 2021.

In March, higher commodity prices had led exports to expand for the second straight month, surpassing market expectations.

Exports grew by 25.4 per cent year-on-year to a record level of 131.64 billion ringgit ($30.3 billion). The market had predicted a growth of 10.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, the country’s imports also grew by 29.9 per cent year-on-year to an all-time high of 104.93 billion ringgit. Following the higher exports value than imports, Malaysia’s trade surplus widened to 26.7 billion ringgit, 10.3 per cent higher than a year ago.

Domestic exports were valued at 106.9 billion ringgit, contributing 81.2 per cent to total exports, picking up strongly 22.8 per cent year-on-year. Re-exports amounted to 24.7 billion ringgit, expanding by 38 per cent as compared to March 2021.

MIDF Research said the continued expansion in global demand for E&E and commodities would support the overall export outlook. Moreover, the reopening of economies will facilitate growing trade activity this year, it added.

With concerns over the near-term outlook, MIDF Research has maintained its growth forecast for exports and imports at 7.8 per cent and 9.6 per cent, respectively, for 2022.

TA Research said Malaysia’s trade sector would continue to grow this year.

“While the moderation in external trade has been in line with our expectations, the pace of growth for both exports and imports has been stronger than our projections.

“As a result, we have revised our growth projection higher for both exports and imports to 9.2 per cent year-on-year and 9.9 per cent year-on-year, respectively,” it said.

Commenting on the headwinds which would impact export growth, Nadia said given the country’s limited direct trade links with Russia and Ukraine, the repercussions of the conflict would materialise in Malaysia mostly through second order effects.

The ensuing supply chain disruptions and surge in inflation from sanctions against Russia would dampen global economic growth and in turn impact export demand.

“Thus, if the magnitude of the [conflict’s] impact on Malaysia’s key trading partners is sizeable, this could significantly slow down exports.

“The prolonged lockdowns in China amid its zero-Covid-19 policy also risk worsening supply chain disruptions. As the world’s largest exporter, a slowdown in Chinese trade would have a ripple effect on global trade and subsequently Malaysian trade activity,” Nadia noted.

Sharing a similar view, Bank Islam’s Afzanizam said the disruption in the global supply chain would be one of the key downside risks.

“The zero-Covid strategy implemented in China has a serious implication, especially in areas relating to ports like Shanghai, Ningbo-Zhousan, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Qingdao.

“We know that Shanghai is the busiest port in the world and given the close linkages of China’s economy with the rest of the countries globally, it could potentially delay production activities,” he added.

Malaysia recession unlikely for now, economists say

Sentiment on the Malaysian stock market has been weighed down by a couple of factors, including the fear of a recession.

The ringgit has weakened quite a bit while the Russia-Ukraine conflict is expected to pose a drag on Malaysia’s nascent export-led recovery.

Cautiousness over future economic outlook is building as the prices of commodities and metals linked to manufacturing have eased from their peaks.

Malaysia is an exporter of oil, crude palm oil (CPO) and electrical and electronics (E&E) components, which has been a great beneficiary to the trade balance as countries emerge from the pandemic.

While the hit on commodities may impact Malaysian exports to a certain extent, a recession is unlikely for now, said economists.

“We may see a slowdown due to supply-chain disruptions but recession is not likely,” said AmBank Group chief economist Anthony Dass.

According to him, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to hit advanced economies harder compared with developing Asia.

“There is still sustainable growth from China, which is our largest trading partner.

“We are looking for a growth of about 4.8 per cent for the country in 2022, which is conservative versus 5.3 per cent as projected by others,” he told StarBiz.

He added that Malaysia will continue to benefit from commodity prices and the E&E segment, as demand for these products and merchandise are still on the high side compared to what was projected at the start of the year.

“In 2022, we are looking at an average of $90 for oil, while CPO at around 5,000 ringgit [$1,150] versus 3,500 ringgit at year-start,” Dass said.

For context, Budget 2022 was designed based on an estimated oil price of $66 per barrel.

“For this year, our base-case [growth] projection is at 5.6 per cent, with the downside at 4.8 per cent and upside at six per cent, which is still higher than 2021’s 3.1 per cent growth,” added Dass, who is more concerned about the impact of China’s zero-Covid policy than the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“China is the global manufacturing powerhouse, so every time there is a sporadic shutdown, there is an impact on the supply chain.

“For Malaysia, recovery will be skewed, driven by export-led factors such as semiconductors and resource-related.

“The economy will also get an uplift from a rise in consumer spending and there would be a positive spillover effect from tourism and tourism-related activities with the reopening of international borders,” he added.

On the other hand, the construction sector will be slow until the big projects are rolled out.

That said, he added that there could be more downward revision to the economic growth projection.

Meanwhile, economist Manokaran Mottain said downside risks on the global economy remain due to geopolitical tensions, spiking inflation and potential interest rate hikes in advanced economies, which could crimp growth this year.

“Fears [of the world heading for another recession] may be overblown. It is relatively unlikely but you cannot rule it out, given the growing list of risks clouding the global economic outlook.

“However, for Malaysia, inflation is still manageable. The only thing not in our favour is the exchange rate but the perception is that local interest rates are likely to go up slowly as compared to the United States.

“So there has been an outflow of funds from the country in search of better yields,” he added.

Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, has projected the local economy to grow by between 5.3 per cent and 6.3 per cent this year.

Earlier this month, the World Bank lowered its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for Malaysia for 2022 to 5.5 per cent from 5.8 per cent previously.

Focus on digitalisation and green growth

ASEAN finance ministers and central bank governors exchanged views with the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the World Bank (WB); the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); the Asian Development Bank (ADB); and the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) on regional and global outlook, in particular risks and opportunities, as well as policy recommendations, to foster a resilient, sustainable and inclusive recovery.

In his intervention, Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew emphasised the need for ASEAN to continue with collective efforts to ensure ASEAN remains an attractive investment destination.

The minister also said it is important for the people of ASEAN to be equipped with the right mentality and skills to take advantage of opportunities arising from the new “norm,” which can further strengthen recovery.

The meeting concluded that as the pandemic recedes most economies are ready to re-open. However, the focus to alleviate the impact of the pandemic and support economic recovery remains crucial.

As uncertainty and volatility of the global environment increase, policy mix needs to remain supportive and ASEAN members are encouraged to continue to undertake reforms that will spur recovery.


Read the full article here

AMRO calls for economic diversification efforts to keep recession at bay

Structural reform efforts need to be continued to diversify Brunei Darussalam’s economy to improve its economic growth prospects. Without economic diversification, a broad-based global recession that leads to a decline in world demand and oil prices will affect Brunei’s economic growth, fiscal balance, and external sector.

This was highlighted by ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) in its annual ASEAN+3 Regional Economic Outlook (AREO) report on the Sultanate published this week.

The report added that climate change, particularly the low-carbon transition, is also a key perennial risk impacting the country’s economic sustainability.

In the short term, major risks facing Brunei’s economy continue to revolve around its concentration in the oil and gas sector and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country’s high dependence on the oil and gas sector makes it less resilient to domestic and external shocks which adversely impact its external position and fiscal balance.

The report noted that the plunge in global demand for oil and gas in 2020 affected the economy significantly, in addition to the second wave of COVID-19 infections due to the Delta variant and the COVID-related border restrictions adversely affecting the country’s short-term performance.

Despite the easing of containment policies in late 2021 as the second wave of infections subsided, any new and sustained wave of the Omicron variant could threaten the near-term outlook, especially considering the slow progress in economic diversification.

Read the full article here.


Brunei economy to grow 4.1pc

Brunei Darussalam’s economic growth is forecast to pick up this year at 4.1 per cent benefitting from high oil and gas prices, ongoing global recovery and low-base effect. Next year, the gross domestic product (GDP) growth is projected to be 2.3 per cent.

This was highlighted by ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) in its annual ASEAN+3 Regional Economic Outlook (AREO) report on Tuesday.

The report said the Sultanate’s economy declined for four consecutive quarters year-on-year (y-o-y) through third quarter (Q3) of 2021. Real GDP declined by 1.7 per cent y-o-y in the first nine months of 2021, driven mainly by contraction in the oil and gas sector.

Turnaround activities and a limited onsite workforce because of COVID-19 reduced the sector’s ability to recover from unscheduled deferment of well, reservoir and facilities management activities.

The non-oil and gas sector registered positive growth in Q3 2021, thanks to subsectors such as finance, communication, health services and manufacturing of food and beverages.

Growth in the non-oil and gas sector was mainly driven by increased domestic demand.

The AMRO report added that retail sales performed well in the first nine months of 2021 as restrictions on overseas travel prompted a rise in domestic consumption. However, it dropped by 5.2 per cent in Q3 2021 as movement restriction mandates took effect.

Read the full article here.


Lao PDR Reforms Boosted Business Development, but More Needs to be Done

Lao PDR Reforms Boosted Business Development, but More Needs to be Done — New Report

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (31 March 2022) — The regulatory environment for business development has improved across all provinces in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR),

but more needs to be done to accelerate the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a joint report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI).

The second edition of the Provincial Facilitation for Investment and Trade (ProFIT) Index report recommends that the government take steps to reduce regulatory requirements to encourage companies to register formally, improve transparency, and remove informal charges levied on enterprises. The index analyzes the experiences and perceptions of the business community in complying with regulations at the local government level, based on a 2019 survey of 1,357 enterprises in 17 provinces.

“Reforms since 2018 have helped local governments remove hurdles to business development and encourage economic diversification,” said ADB Country Director for the Lao PDR Sonomi Tanaka. “Further reforms, implemented with efficiency and integrity, are needed to spur new business opportunities and create jobs to help the Lao PDR build a more competitive, productive economy after the COVID-19 crisis.”

The joint report focuses on six key areas: the ease of starting a business, transparency and access to information, regulatory burden, informal charges, consistency in policy implementation, and the business friendliness of the provincial administration.

“Overcoming the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic will require the central and local governments to work closely with the private sector to attract new domestic and international investments,” said LNCCI President Oudet Souvannavong. “The ProFIT report offers detailed analysis on the strengths and weaknesses of the business environment procedures and practices at the local government level.”

The Lao PDR’s economy and business community were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s economic growth is expected to be below 4.5% in 2022 and 2023, compared with an annual average expansion of 7% in the 2 decades prior, says the report.

The government’s 2018 reforms reduced the cost and the processing time of business registration by one-third, the report says. But the survey found a high prevalence of irregular practices, including informal payments to officials, underreporting of enterprise income, and difficulty in accessing official information. The cumbersome and complex regulatory framework means the government is missing out on substantial tax revenue collections needed to fund spending on critical public services. The government has acknowledged the importance of making business registration and tax payments easier in its Ninth National Socio-Economic Development Plan, 2021–2025.

second ADB–LNCCI report, also released today, finds that women-led enterprises have lower levels of compliance and tend to be smaller in size than men-led businesses. Female entrepreneurs reported that their business registration takes longer and costs more. The report urges the government to train staff to overcome hidden gender biases and make it easier for women to create and run businesses.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

Source: Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The future of agrifood tech in Southeast Asia: Agriculture in the digital decade

Agriculture is a key sector in Southeast Asian economies. According to the World Bank, agriculture accounted for about 11% of ASEAN’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. In countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar, the sector contributed more than 20% to national GDP. Agriculture is also a major employer in the region. In 2019, it accounted for more than 35% of total employment in countries like Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

In recent years, the global agricultural industry has faced numerous challenges. One is climate change. In Southeast Asia, the sector has taken a battering due to more extreme weather events driven by global warming. According to a 2021 research report by the Asian Development Bank, from 2008 to 2018, the region suffered USD 21 billion in crop and livestock production losses due to climate-related disasters.

This was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a shortage of agricultural labor and disruptions in global supply chains. In 2020, the pandemic was estimated to have caused a 3.1% reduction in the aggregate volume of agricultural production (29.58 million tons) in Southeast Asia, which represents a 1.4% decrease (USD 3.76 billion) in the region’s GDP.

Amid these challenges, there are silver linings—the region’s agricultural industry is rapidly adopting new and innovative technologies, especially in rural and urban farming activities.

Tech-enabled farming
Agriculture in Southeast Asia is in the midst of a technological transformation. For example, smartphones are harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to more effectively control crop management, while drones are helping farmers improve their farming practices and increase crop yields. For many of the region’s smallholder farmers, who are defined as growers who operate in land areas smaller than two hectares, these digital technologies have not only enhanced the efficiency of their operations, but also boosted their income.

In Vietnam, MimosaTEK is bringing precision agriculture to smallholder farmers with cloud-based devices and sensors that aid crop monitoring. At the same time, the startup leverages internet-of-things (IoT) technology to develop a smart irrigation system that allows farmers to use smartphones to monitor weather conditions and irrigate their crops while optimizing water use. The Vietnamese government has successfully piloted this system in Cần Thơ Province, and is planning to scale the program across the rest of the Mekong Delta.

Agritech and “smarter farming” will also play a bigger role in Thailand’s agricultural sector as the Thai government encourages its farmers to adopt smart farming practices. To incentivize local farmers to adopt digital technologies in their operations, since 2020, Thailand’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency has been awarding farmers and community enterprises agritech grants between THB 10,000 (USD 300) and THB 300,000 (USD 9,000). As a result, some farmers in Thailand have started using drones in farming activities such as planting seeds and spraying pesticides.

Drones have also been used in agriculture in other parts of Southeast Asia for purposes such as weather forecasting, disaster management, crop damage assessment, and crop monitoring and mapping.

A good example is Poladrone, a Malaysia-based drone technology startup, which provides pest management solutions for Malaysian oil palm farmers. Not only can its drones carry out precision spraying of pesticides, they can also help to reduce the farmers’ exposure to toxic pesticides.

Digital technologies are crucial to improve farmers’ resilience to tackle climate change and COVID-19 challenges. To support the adoption of digital technologies among smallholder farmers, Deloitte and the World Economic Forum (WEF) have engaged in a multi-year partnership to support the design and execution of the 100 Million Farmers program. The program aims to incentivise and enable farmers to adopt sustainable practices to support the global transition towards net-zero, nature-positive food systems.

Urban farms
Besides catalyzing the digital transformation of the agricultural sector, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have also highlighted the importance of urban agriculture.

According to a recent report on Singapore’s agrifood tech ecosystem by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), urban farms help build a more secure and resilient food system. This would explain why the Singapore Food Agency set up a SGD 60 million (USD 44.4 million) Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund in 2021 to encourage local farms to adopt sustainable, tech-enabled farming practices.

Urban farms are key to building a more robust food system in cities which tend to be heavily dependent on food imports. These farms provide a buffer for market supply, in the event of disruptions to food supply chains.

Urban agriculture also allows farmers to grow a wide variety of produce all year round. By using soilless agricultural systems such as aeroponics or hydroponics, growers can reduce problems associated with soil-borne pests and diseases, as well as increase crop yields.

At the same time, the use of digital technologies such as LED lighting, sensors, and IoT technology help urban farms better control and optimize growing conditions for higher yields.

For example, Singapore-based agritech startup Sustenir has high-tech indoor farms that can achieve yields at least 14 times higher than traditional farms.

Meanwhile, farmers are also using e-commerce platforms to sell directly to urban consumers.

In Singapore, there is Urban Tiller, a farm-to-table agritech startup that delivers fresh produce to households within eight hours after harvest. In Indonesia, people in Java and Bali are turning to e-grocery platform Sayurbox to order fresh produce directly from local farmers.

According to the e-Conomy SEA Report 2021 by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company, Southeast Asia’s tenacious digital growth is in part driven by e-commerce, online groceries, and food delivery. This has been in part catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, there have been 60 million new digital consumers in Southeast Asia, of which 20 million joined in the first half of 2021 alone.

Southeast Asia is a key market for agritech
Southeast Asia is poised to become a key market for agritech investment as consumers and businesses in the region go online at a rapid pace. According to AGFunder, agrifood tech startups globally raised USD 51.7 billion in 2021, almost double the USD 27.8 billion raised in 2020.

As agritech solves the challenges of agriculture and food production, it shines the spotlight on the food supply chain. Besides food production, there are many other areas in the food system where technology can be applied, including food processing and distribution.

Asia has become the largest region in the global food market, with its market share growing from 42% in 2014 to 50% in 2020. Consumers will spend an additional USD 4.4 trillion on food over the next ten years, as massive demographic changes and evolving consumer needs drive up demand for larger quantities and better quality food.

In the next article of our two-part series on “The future of agrifood tech in Southeast Asia,” we will delve into the world of food technology (foodtech) and alternative foods, and discuss the roles they play in the agrifood ecosystem.

Industry urges longer-term solutions

The government should come up with not only short-term measures, but also medium and long-term plans to cope with the impact of the global oil price surge and the Russia-Ukraine war, according to industrialists in various sectors.

They propose the administration also focus on creating more jobs, redesigning national energy management, and making the business sector more self-reliant as ways to support the overall economy and help people survive the impact of economic uncertainties over the long haul.


The cabinet recently approved a list of 10 measures to counterbalance the fuel price spike. The measures are expected to last from May until July.

Though it agrees with the measures, the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) wants the government to start thinking about efforts that will enable businesses to be more self-reliant once the package of measures aimed at easing the cost of living expires.

The measures help households and businesses, especially those in the retail and transport sectors, but they are insufficient because the country needs medium and long-term plans to cope with the impact of the global oil price surge and the Russia-Ukraine war, said the federation.

These two problems have dealt a blow to the Thai economy, which is still staggering from the economic effects of the pandemic.

While an urgent economic cure is required for Thailand, it is more important that additional actions be taken to fully restore the economy, especially in terms of helping pandemic-ravaged tourism operators and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), said Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the FTI.

The business sector should eventually become more self-reliant, depending less on the state's fiscal-monetary injections, he said.

"Don't forget that if a huge amount of budget is spent to solve certain problems, authorities can hardly avoid causing a burden on the country's coffers," said Mr Supant.

This may result in a lack of opportunity in dealing with other problems, he said.

Mr Supant suggested the government help SMEs better cope with their debts so they can manage their money and keep operating their businesses over the long term.

The government should use the energy price crisis as an opportunity to redesign national energy management by using more renewable energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, he said.

In the tourism sector, authorities should seriously consider abandoning the mandatory Test & Go scheme, a Covid-19 screening measure that requires foreign travelers to undergo RT-PCR tests in Thailand, said Mr Supant.

This measure runs counter to the message of truly reopening Thailand to tourists, he said.

Foreign visitors who are fully vaccinated want unfettered travel that will not incur additional costs, said Mr Supant.


Source : Bangkok Post

Loss-ridden insurance providers get licenses revoked after massive COVID claims

Thailand’s Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith has revoked the business licenses of two financially-troubled Thai insurance companies, Southeast Insurance and Thai Insurance, effective today (Friday), following a massive amount of COVID-19 claims.

Secretary-General of the Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC) Suttipol Taweechaikarn said that the finance minister had no choice but to close the businesses, because their shareholders have refused to increase the capital.

He said that the two insurance companies now have more liabilities than assets, due to claims for compensation from many customers who took out the two firms’ “Found, Paid, Done” COVID-19 insurance policies.

The compensation claims mounted as COVID-19 spread, to the extent that their liabilities have outstripped their assets

The OIC secretary-general said that the insurance reserves and capital funding ratio of the two firms are below what is required by law, the companies have unreasonably delayed compensation payments to their customers and they have failed to record compensation payments as required, forcing the OIC to propose the revocation of their licenses.

In January, Thai Group Holdings, the parent company of Southeast Insurance, notified the Stock Exchange of Thailand of its board’s decision to wind the insurance company up and to return its operating license to the insurance registrar. The move was, however, rejected by the OIC on the grounds that it cannot simply shut down the business unilaterally without approval from the OIC.

Suttipol said that the OIC has been trying hard to solve the financial problems of the two companies for the benefit of their customers, but without success. He admitted that the revocation of the licenses will affect only the COVID-19 policy holders, whereas other life and non-life insurance policies have been transferred to other providers. Southeast Insurance still owes 13 billion baht in compensation, whereas Thai Insurance owes 4.6 billion baht.

source : Thai PBS WORLD