Investments in green infrastructure, digital transformation, big data, and revenue mobilization through tax reform can help boost the recovery of Southeast Asia countries from the economic impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
At the opening of the 2-day Southeast Asia Development Symposium on 17 March, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa said, “As countries slowly begin to emerge from the devastating health and economic impacts of the pandemic, we now stand at a critical juncture. The pandemic offers us a unique opportunity to rebuild for a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable recovery. The pandemic is presenting all of us with unprecedented challenges, and we need to forge a new path forward together, one which taps new ideas and technologies, and leverages our existing platforms for innovation and partnership.”
This is the second year that ADB is organizing the symposium, which is being held virtually.
Other keynote speakers of the plenary session included Philippine Finance Secretary and ADB Governor Carlos G. Dominguez; United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana; Google Vice-President and Google.org President Jacquelline Fuller; International Vaccine Institute Director General Jerome Kim; and Bye Bye Plastic Bags and Youthtopia Voices founder Melati Wijsen.
Economic outlook for the region
According to its latest economic forecasts, ADB sees growth in Southeast Asia to remain under pressure as COVID-19 outbreaks and containment measures continue, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
In December, ADB revised down the region’s growth forecast for 2020 to -4.4% from -3.8% in September. The outlook for 2021 is also downgraded, with Southeast Asia now expected to grow 5.2% compared to the 5.5% growth forecast in September.
Three key policy areas
In a news release, ADB said developing economies in Southeast Asia can benefit from action in three key policy areas, which are laid out in a series of policy briefs it launched at the symposium on Wednesday:
- First, investing in environmentally sustainable development in five sectors—agriculture, oceans, urban and transport, waste management, and clean energy—could create 30 million jobs in Southeast Asia by 2030.
- Second, expanding the tax base, maximizing tax compliance, and simplifying the compliance process will significantly boost governments’ revenue and better position them to finance pandemic recovery.
- Third, by making better use of big data, countries can capitalize on the region’s digital transformation to enhance the delivery of health care, social protection, and education.
ADB also identifies the policy responses needed to transform or improve tourism, agro-processing, and garments; and tap the high potential for future growth of two evolving sectors: electronics and digital trade in Southeast Asia.
Innovation and collaboration
Big data solutions can play an important role in ensuring safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination programs, said Asakawa in his speech. Big data refers to the science of using artificial intelligence, such as machine learning, to analyze large amounts of data for insights beyond what is captured in standard databases.
He identified four ways that big data can help countries prepare for vaccine rollout through regional collaboration:
- Ensure supply and demand are well matched both within and across borders.
- Store appropriate amounts of vaccines within a precise temperature range.
- Preserve vaccine quality along the distribution chain.
- Share data on adverse side effects in a timely manner, and use machine learning to to analyze data to determine priority groups for vaccination.
Countries in Southeast Asia are currently in different stages of COVID-19 vaccine deployment. They have activated regional mechanisms under ASEAN to strengthen vaccine security and entered bilateral and international arrangements to procure COVID-19 vaccines.
The symposium, "Innovation through Collaboration: Planning for Inclusive Post-COVID-19 Recovery," explores how Southeast Asian nations can improve access to vaccines, revitalize businesses, create jobs, and harness big data and new technology to support growth.
More than 3,400 high-level government officials, private sector representatives, and other stakeholders from more than 100 countries have registered for the event.