10 August 17 The Straits Times by YASMINE YAHYA
United Overseas Bank, in its 80-year history, has been a witness to Asean's development from the very beginning, and a believer too.
Deputy chairman and chief executive officer Wee Ee Cheong said that regional blocs are not in fashion these days - Asean is turning 50 at a time of rising nationalist sentiment and policies.
However, the bank remains deeply committed to the region and believes much more potential remains to be tapped.
After all, Asean's growth outpaces that of the European Union and the United States. The region is expected to become the fourth largest economy by 2030, behind the EU, United States and China.
This growth presents immense opportunities for business, trade and investment, Mr Wee said. The region's collective potential is underpinned by strong fundamentals such as a young and vibrant workforce, a growing middle class and increasing intra-regional trade flows.
For this future to come to fruit- ion, connectivity will be key, he added.
After all, Asean has long been a trade-driven economic bloc. Together, the members bring to the table a wide range of comparative advantages such as low-cost labour, abundant natural resources and close intra-Asean governmental relationships.
The successful adoption of digital technology and data - from individuals and businesses to industries and economies - in the face of potential disruption will help to equip and to prepare Asean for the opportunities of the future.
MR WEE EE CHEONG, UOB's Deputy chairman and chief executive officer
The new Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025 adopted in September last year will help, he said, as it encourages further the development of the region's infrastructure, logistics, innovation, regulations and people mobility.
For its part, UOB's Foreign Direct Investment Advisory team, which was set up in 2011, has been connecting companies within Asean and beyond in China, Japan and Europe to business, trade and investment opportunities in the region.
Last year, the team facilitated more than $27 billion of business flows to South-east Asia's industries such as fast-moving consumer goods, natural resources, and building and construction.
Being able to support our customers as they seize these opportunities is one of the reasons we continue to deepen our presence in key Asean markets, such as in the frontier markets of Myanmar and Vietnam, Mr Wee said.
UOB also recently became the first Singapore bank to receive an in-principle foreign-owned subsi- diary bank licence in Vietnam.
From here, the way forward for Asean is digital, Mr Wee said.
While the economy in the 20th century was driven by goods and services, the 21st century is being driven by digital technology and data, which can be effective enablers for inclusive and sustainable growth.
The successful adoption of digital technology and data - from individuals and businesses to industries and economies - in the face of potential disruption will help to equip and to prepare Asean for the opportunities of the future, he added.
Infrastructure development is another area which will fuel growth, Mr Wee said. Large-scale infrastructure projects such as the trans-Asian railway are connecting Asean to new opportunities. The economic benefits brought about by these projects will be enormous and will help to reinforce Asean's role in the global manufacturing and supply chains.
UOB has facilitated infrastructure development in Asean by, for example, financing the construction of gas-fired power plants and telecommunications towers in Myanmar and investing in one of Vietnam's largest privately-owned hydro-power companies, Bitexco Power Corporation.
Over the past five decades, the 10 Asean member countries have demonstrated the pragmatism of their approach to stability, growth and development through unity in diversity, Mr Wee said. UOB, with its deep roots in the region, remains very positive about the benefits that a strong, cohesive and prepared Asean will bring to individuals, businesses and industries.