Asian Insider Sept 25: Dim economic outlook for Asia

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

Greetings!
 
In today's bulletin: The economic outlook for Asia looks dim, South-east Asian countries band together to tackle global tech giants on issues such as "fake news" and taxation and a fourth summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be in the offing.

Reading this on the web or know someone who might enjoy receiving Asian Insider? Our sign-up page is here.

DIM ECONOMIC OUTLOOK FOR ASIA

Asia's economic outlook will dim further amid a global slowdown and a re-escalation of the China-US trade war. This is the view of the Asian Development Bank which on Wednesday cut its forecast for developing Asia this year from 5.7 per cent to 5.4 per cent.

The regional lender said also that Singapore and Hong Kong, which are heavily reliant on trade and investment, are most susceptible to the headwinds, reports Japan correspondent Walter Sim.

It slashed its growth forecast for Singapore from 2.6 per cent to 0.7 per cent. There is a silver lining, however, for some developing economies like Vietnam and Bangladesh which are poised to benefit from "trade re-direction" as firms consider moving out of China to avoid US trade tariffs.

PORK DIPLOMACY

Chinese companies are preparing to buy more pork from the United States in what could be a move to ease tensions ahead of trade talks that are set to resume in two weeks.

The firms are inquiring about prices from pork exporters including Smithfield Foods Inc and the volume of purchases could be around 100,000 tonnes. China is trying to reach a trade deal with the US as its economy is feeling the effects of trade tariffs that the US has imposed on Chinese goods.

It is also seeking to boost pork imports as its hog populations are being decimated by the spread of the deadly African swine fever with numbers falling by 40 per cent and prices of pork surging more than 70 per cent this year.

SOUTH-EAST ASIAN NATIONS TO BAND TOGETHER TO TAKE ON TECH GIANTS

Governments of South-east Asia are set to band together to tackle global tech giants on issues such as "fake news" and taxation as they count on the digital economy to drive growth and innovation.

These new initiatives include an effort by Indonesia to join forces with Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines to demand action from the likes of Google and Facebook on content regulation and tax policy.

Separately, the council of Asean telecoms regulators has accepted Thailand's proposal that all Asean members require internet and streaming video firms to set up domestic "verification centres" to combat fake news. It also accepted a Thai proposal for a separate document with guidelines for economic contributions from such firms.

FOURTH TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT SOON?

US President Donald Trump could be meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un soon. Mr Trump said this in remarks to reporters in New York on Monday although he qualified it by saying he wants to "know what's going to be coming out of it".

The US leader met South Korean President Moon Jae In on Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly where they agreed on early resumption of nuclear talks, reports South Korea correspondent Chang May Choon. If the two leaders do meet, it will be their fourth summit after their first in Singapore in June last year.

Negotiations have stalled since their second summit in Hanoi in February and a brief meeting in Panmunjom in July did little to push things forward. Now the two sides are likely to hold working-level talks within two to three weeks that could lead to another Trump-Kim summit, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers on Tuesday.

THREE FIRMS WITH SINGAPORE OFFICES LINKED TO HAZE-CAUSING FIRES

Three Indonesian firms linked to forest fires causing haze have offices in Singapore and if found to have caused or condoned such fires could face prosecution in the island state, reports environment correspondent Audrey Tan.

One of them, Hutan Ketapang Industri, has its land sealed off by Indonesian authorities after fires were discovered it. It is linked to Singapore-based Sampoerna Agri Resources. The other two are pulp giants Asia Pulp and Paper and April, which have also had concession areas sealed off because of fires.

Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act allows it to bring to book firms whose Indonesian operations cause or condone fires that result in unhealthy levels of haze on the island, with fines reaching as high as $2 million.

Meantime, thundery showers are forecast in Singapore that could bring some respite although hot spot activities in Sumatra are expected to persist that could cause slightly hazy conditions over the next few days.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Rise of the phoenix: Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared open Beijing's new airport Daxing International on Wednesday, ahead of the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China on Oct 1. The phoenix-shaped state-of-the-art airport is expected to handle up to 72 million passengers a year by 2025 and China hopes to turn it into a global aviation hub.

Honey war: The New Zealand government is supporting a bid by the country's honey producers to trademark the name "manuka" in China, angering Australian rivals who fear losing out in the two countries' biggest market for the product. Manuka is the Maori name for the plant that produces the namesake honey, which is said to have health benefits and is popular among Asian consumers. Australia, which has 65 manuka honey producers, could lose A$1 billion (S$930 million) in sales if New Zealand succeeds in trademarking the name in China.

No to new laws: Indonesian students took to the streets of Jakarta for a third day on Wednesday to protest against proposed new laws. These include a new criminal code that would ban extramarital sex and make it an offence to insult the president's honour. They were also protesting against a law that critics say would weaken the fight against corruption and wanted better prevention of haze-causing fires.

No Hong Kong concessions: Beijing has ruled out any further concessions to Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters after the city's government earlier this month withdrew an extradition Bill that sparked a summer of protests. Mr Song Ruan, a deputy commissioner at the Chinese foreign ministry's office in the city, said it was up to the city's government to deal with the protests but also dismissed other demands made by the protesters at a meeting with reporters on Wednesday.

That's it for today.

- Sui Noi