The ASEAN-Japan Centre is an intergovernmental organization established by the Association of Southeast Asian Nation member states and Japan in 1981, serving as a bridge between the two parties for 40 years. It has been promoting exports from ASEAN member states to Japan while revitalizing investment and tourism, as well as people-to-people exchanges between ASEAN members and Japan through seminars, webinars, workshops, capacity-building programs, research and policy analysis, cross-cultural events and publication and information services, among others.

The ASEAN chairmanship rotates annually, based on the alphabetical order of the names of the member states. This year, Brunei Darussalam is the chair of ASEAN under the theme, “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper.” Brunei will be hosting the ASEAN Summit and has been holding related summits as well as a number of other official meetings despite the difficulties and challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dato Amin Liew Abdullah, minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and minister of finance and economy II | MINISTRY OF FINANCE AND ECONOMY II, BRUNEI DARUSSALAM
Dato Amin Liew Abdullah, minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and minister of finance and economy II | MINISTRY OF FINANCE AND ECONOMY II, BRUNEI DARUSSALAM

Before the summit and its related meetings start in October, the AJC requested a message from Brunei Darussalam as chair of ASEAN for 2021 on its chairmanship and ASEAN’s future prospects to share with the general public in Japan. The message the AJC received from Dato Amin Liew Abdullah, minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and minister of finance and economy II, follows.

2021 is an unprecedented year in the world’s efforts to confront a virus like no other. The pandemic has disrupted lives, communities and businesses around the globe. It negatively affected economic growth in 2020 beyond anything experienced in the modern world.

Likewise, ASEAN has not been spared from its effects, as economic activities in the region have been severely impacted. The tenacity of our supply chains is being challenged, our border movements limited and many industrial activities disrupted. Undoubtedly, it has left an impact on the lives of people across the ASEAN region and hence prompted us together to understand this paradigm shift in economic activities and ideas for the future.Hence, collective efforts are being undertaken toward strengthening the region’s economic resilience by ensuring open and connected supply chains as well as increasing intra-ASEAN trade and investment. As a testament to these efforts, ASEAN leaders adopted the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and its implementation plan at the 37th ASEAN Summit in November 2020. The framework outlines the region’s needs as it transitions to the new normal and advances to a more sustainable and resilient future in the long term.

As ASEAN member states gradually resume economic activities, the region’s economy has started to pick up, a testament to our ability to adapt to this new environment. We have seen changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution with digital transformation applied across business models, accelerating digital adoption and pushing business entities to reevaluate how they operate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly fast-forwarded ASEAN’s shift toward digitalization, prioritizing recovery efforts and putting emphasis on the pursuit of sustainable economic growth. It is in this spirit that, under the theme “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper,” Brunei Darussalam’s main focus as ASEAN chair for 2021 is on three priority areas: caring for the people and each person’s well-being; preparing for future opportunities and challenges; and prospering together in a unified region.

While ASEAN focuses efforts on health and economic recovery in the region, it is also imperative that we keep our sights on our ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) integration agenda. The crisis presents an opportunity for ASEAN members to work together, develop immediate and long-term goals to revive their economy, and ensure the workforces and businesses are equipped with the skills and tools to adapt to any economic disruption. Together, we can shape ASEAN into a more resilient and dynamic trade bloc that is ahead of the curve in championing new solutions aimed at sustainability, hence ensuring a better future for generations to come.

It is therefore fitting, in 2021, for ASEAN to intensify efforts toward building an ASEAN community that is inclusive, sustainable, resilient and dynamic. We believe no one should be left behind in ASEAN’s recovery.

Hence, for the AEC pillar, Brunei Darussalam has proposed 13 priority economic deliverables (PEDs) focusing on three strategic thrusts, namely recovery, digitalization and sustainability. The PEDs seek to push the agenda for economic integration forward with our recovery efforts. These include addressing nontariff measures; the launching of negotiations for a possible ASEAN-Canada free trade agreement; cybersecurity; finalizing a framework to support small producers, cooperatives and micro-, small- and midsize enterprises in food, agriculture and forestry; improving product quality to meet regional/international standards and ensure competitiveness; energy transition; and developing a framework for a circular economy. The 13 PEDs are designed to assist the business communities in growing and in supporting one another, the AEC Blueprint 2025 and the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework while helping the region recover stronger, together.

Moving forward, while the spread of COVID-19 has not yet subsided and many countries continue to be affected, full-pledged support, commitment and continuous cooperation among ASEAN’s members and dialogue partners are required to fully revive the economy. This will enable us as the current ASEAN chair to achieve the short- and long-term recovery goals that will make ASEAN more resilient, dynamic and sustainable so it can ensure a better future for the region.

This content was compiled in collaboration with the ASEAN-Japan Centre and the Ministry of Finance and Economy, Brunei Darussalam