COVID-19 is undoubtedly a fatal disease that has turned our lives upside down in many ways. As of September 23, it had infected more than 231 million people and killed more than 4.75 million people worldwide. It also disrupted economic activities.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global affairs across the globe,” said Steve Chen, deputy representative of the Taipei Economic and Trade Office (TETO), during the opening of an international webinar on September 23 in Jakarta.
Surprisingly, the pandemic has also brought positive changes.
“The ongoing pandemic also highlights the benefits of rapid technological advancements, digitization and increased services, trade, investment and the provision of new forms of global linkages,” the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), which hosted a webinar titled “Economic Integration in ASEAN and East Asia: Post-COVID-19 Trends and Prospects,” said in a press release.
Accelerated digital transformation can boost global production, trade and jobs. Online app-based businesses like Gojek, Grab, and Shopee in Indonesia have empowered many small and medium-sized businesses and provided jobs for millions of people.
Almost every country in Southeast Asia and East Asia is experiencing a robust, resilient and sustainable economic recovery this year amid the pandemic.
“So far, the pandemic has not disrupted the production system and business models in the East Asian region,” said Aladdin Rillo, senior economic adviser at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, during the webinar.
Likewise, the agricultural sector has not been disrupted by COVID-19 in many countries in Southeast Asia. However, we also need to be realistic.
“The pandemic is not ending but is peaking in Asia, although the recovery is underway,” said Jayant Menon of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
The recovery, Menon said, could be mixed and uncertain. Therefore, all countries should gradually open their borders and improve internal mobility.
We really don’t know the true nature of the economic recovery and integration between the two dynamic regions of Asia in the post-COVID-19 era. Despite this, all countries should strive to strengthen their capacity building.
“Countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia face the same problem of limited economic capacity due to the pandemic. They need to strengthen their capacity building in the post-COVID-19 period, ”said Raldi Hendro Koestoer from the University of Indonesia, Depok.
During the webinar, Raldi spoke about a circular economy in the midst of the pandemic. He said it is vital for Indonesia.
“The implementation of a circular economy should be one of the strategic policies and advances in rebuilding a more resilient Indonesia after the COVID-19 pandemic, with the creation of green jobs and through the use more resource efficient, ”Indonesia’s Minister of National Affairs said. Development planning recently said Suharso Monoarfa.
Asia’s regional integration, which began long before COVID-19, through improved infrastructure, connectivity and movement of people, was hit hard last year, but not now.
“Trade is rebounding very quickly,” said Park Chin-young, director of the Asian Development Bank.
“Asia is expected to maintain a strong trade recovery after the pandemic, but the reconfiguration of global supply chains will pose challenges.”
This reconfiguration, Park said, would be based on regionalization, diversification and automation-based relocation.
“The relocation will be partial and limited. Mass market supply chains still face the pressure of diversification and offshoring, ”said Roy Chun Lee, director of the Taiwan Economic Law Research Center.
The post-COVID-19 period will see regional integration differ from country to country and region to region.
“Asia’s regional integration continues to deepen, with varying degrees of integration across different dimensions and sub-regions,” said Park, who is an expert on regional cooperation and integration.
According to Park, COVID-19 threatens to reverse progress made by opening up trade, investment and mobility, but digitization can help recovery in the post-COVID-19 era.
Park also highlighted the important role of regional agreements, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), in regional integration.
“RCEP can further deepen regional integration. The signing of RCEP has rekindled interest in Asia-Pacific cooperation, ”Park said.
RCEP was signed by 10 ASEAN countries, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand in 2020.
The CPTPP was signed in 2018 by Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Peru and Mexico.
According to Roy, China and Taiwan have applied to join the CPTPP recently.
The most interesting thing about the economic integration of ASEAN and East Asia in the post-COVID-19 period is Taiwan, the fourth largest economy in East Asia. What role will Taiwan play in the post-COVID-19 period?
“Taiwan can play an important role in promoting a green economy, digital transformation and regional economic integration between ASEAN and East Asia,” said Arisman, Executive Director of CSEAS and webinar moderator.
Echoing a similar point of view, Roy said Taiwan is strong in digitization, technology, small and medium businesses, and supply chains.
“Taiwan is ready to work with countries in Southeast Asia to bring rapid and lasting economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 period,” Roy said.
This year, economic recovery is imminent in many countries in Southeast Asia and East Asia. Cross-border trade and investment will increase. Digital transformation, supply chain reforms, regional free trade agreements, reduction of non-tariff measures, capacity building and micro, small and medium enterprises would be some of the main drivers of the recovery economic and regional integration in the post-COVID-19 period.