New technology will present challenges – but the future is bright for ASEAN economies

Author: PM editorial | Date: 07 June

The future of jobs discussed at the ASEAN World Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur

The ASEAN economy will face disruption from continual changes to technology but its member nations can overcome this with an adaptable workforce.

That was one of the themes of the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Leaders of industry, academics, and members of government from across Southeast Asia gathered to discuss a range of topics, including diversity and the future of jobs. A key subject of many of the talks was job creation and reducing unemployment in the region.

The forum painted a bright picture of ASEAN’s future – a sentiment echoed by Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak. He said the economy grew at over five per cent a year from 2007 to 2015, during a time when the world was facing financial crisis.

In the face of evolving technology and working practices, the WEF urged governments to collaborate on economic regulations and make sure industries are able to respond quickly to change.

“Regulators and policy-makers are still in the old world. We have to regulate, but we have to do it in a way that is in line with the new world. Governments tend to over-regulate and control in the old way. Policymakers don’t know where all this is going, so it is better to tread lightly,” said Mari Elka Pangestu, professor of international economics at the University of Indonesia.

Highlighting the combined GDP of $2.5 trillion in 2015 and predicting the rise of the 'economic powerhouse' to become the fourth-largest export region globally by 2050, the WEF said: "If ASEAN were a single country it would be the seventh-largest economy in the world."

Sigve Brekke, president and chief executive of Norway's Telenor Group, suggested that the power of a unified ASEAN community could even make their individual borders irrelevant. “The uptake of digital services is going so fast and is bringing down borders between these different nations,” she said.