Asean ministers to discuss growth and resilience

They will also address issues linked to infrastructure projects at upcoming meet

Asean finance ministers will be looking at ways to sustain growth, boost resilience and foster innovation when they meet here next week.

Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told a briefing yesterday that the region's progress over the past 50 years has been remarkable.

Its rapid urbanisation is making infrastructure development a key priority for the region, yet there is a substantial financing gap.

The Asian Development Bank estimates Asean's infrastructure needsto be US$2.8 trillion (S$3.67 trillion) between 2016 and 2030, or about US$184 billion a year.

It is not possible for governments to fund these needs alone and ministers have to look at better mobilisation of private capital, Mr Heng said. "We need to create greater awareness of infrastructure projects within Asean, as well as to better understand the potential investors' needs," he added.

Singapore will host the 8th World Bank-Singapore Infrastructure Finance Summit on April 5.

STAYING VIGILANT

We have to work very hard to ensure it does not escalate because at the end of the day, a trade war will benefit nobody and it will damage all economies.

FINANCE MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT, on keeping watch in the midst of US trade measures against China.

Finance ministers will participate in talks with potential investors to promote greater capital participation in the infrastructure projects.

Later in the year, Singapore will organise the annual Asia-Singapore Infrastructure Roundtable.

Mr Heng noted that an interesting trend is that global investors are increasingly factoring in sustainability considerations.

"To tap this, we will need to find ways to enhance sustainable and green financing within Asean."

Another area of focus is how to strengthen resilience against unexpected events or attacks, he said.

Several Asean states remain highly exposed to natural disasters but disaster financing has not kept pace with economic growth, resulting in a widening protection gap.

"We will focus on enhancing disaster resilience, and support initiatives which enhance Asean's ability to cope with and recover from such shocks," noted Mr Heng.

Another emerging risk is cyber security, he said, noting that there is room for regulators to enhance collaboration and build capacity to lift resilience in the financial sector.

Innovation can be boosted by nations backing new processes in fintech, which can promote financial inclusion for underserved and unbanked segments of society.

Singapore and Thailand are already studying the link-up of each other's real-time retail payment systems, for example.

Within Asean there continues to be strong support for free trade and integration, he said.

He added Singapore is monitoring the American trade measures and rising tensions with China: "We have to work very hard to ensure it does not escalate because at the end of the day, a trade war will benefit nobody and it will damage all economies."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2018, with the headline 'Asean ministers to discuss growth and resilience'. Print Edition | Subscribe