The recently-concluded 2017 Investor Forum and Business Matching paves the way for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand (CMVT) to expand linkages and explore opportunities for expansion into broader regional and global markets. The Forum, held in Bangkok on November 13, 2017, convened 33 SMEs from the 18 provinces in the CMVT, 17 women entrepreneurs from these countries including Lao PDR, and about 99 investors from Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong.
Building on the role of Mekong Institute (MI) as a regional knowledge hub in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), the event delivers on MI’s commitment to build the capacities of key sectors in business and trade in the region. Dr. Watcharas Leelawath, MI Executive Director, remarked that the GMS has good physical connectivity through the economic corridors, but while this is necessary, it is not enough. “What will make it sufficient is the human capital and linking the production with the market. We have to help build and link human to human connectivity and business to business connectivity,” he added.
Mr. Daisuke Matsushima, Professor, Nagasaki University, explained the collaboration between Mekong Institute and Otagai Forum Association, MI’s partner in the event. Otagai, through its partnership with MI, hopes to “bring the variety of knowledge and technology and set up a win-win type of business modeling” in the SEC.
The one-day Forum featured a discussion session on the business opportunities, potentials and mechanisms to boost investments in the ASEAN and more specifically in the Mekong countries and the SEC. Mr. Lee Yong Yong from the Community and Corporate Affairs Department of the ASEAN Secretariat expressed that the Mekong area is an important sub-region within the ASEAN and that there is a need to narrow the development gap in the region, the GMs included.
Zeroing in also on the investment opportunities in the Mekong countries, Mr. Bunna Yea, of the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts, Cambodia, explained the country’s Green Growth Agenda, which promotes the tri-fold objectives of economic growth, social development and environment sustainability. Mr. San Htut Ko from Myanmar’s Ministry of Industry, enumerated the investment opportunities in the country’s sectors including agriculture, tourism and hospitality, manufacturing, and extractive industries especially as the country eyes the development of special economic zones in Dawei, Thilawa and Kyauk Phyu.
Meanwhile, according to Ms. Panee Chengsuttha, Investment Advisor for the Board of Investment of Thailand, the country’s range of tax and non-tax incentives, including a corporate income tax exemption of up to 13 years and land ownership rights, makes Thailand a popular choice for foreign investors. Ms. Nguyen Thu Huong from the Ministry of Industry and Trade noted Vietnam’s strategic location, stable political environment and investment support services as some of the major draws for foreign investors.
Sharing also perspectives from Japan as an investing country, Mr. Daisuke Hiratsuka from the Institute of Developing Economies-Japan External Trade Organization, cited the increasing participation of countries like Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam in supply chains. The rising cost of labor in Thailand is driving investors to turn to these neighbor countries where prices are cheaper. Mr. Sunny Chau from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council discussed Hong Kong’s increasing investments in the GMS.
A one-on-one business networking ensued in the afternoon. Participating SMEs and investors were matched prior to the Forum through the SEC business database (www.sec4business.com), an online platform managed by MI. SMEs provided their business profiles and technological requests, which were then used to find investor matches. Still in its pilot phase, the database will be further enhanced as it will be used to track the business progress and development of the SMEs, in addition to standard monitoring and evaluation forms.
Mr. Madhurjya Kumar Dutta, Director of MI’s Trade and Investment Facilitation Department, described the Forum as an “example of supporting local enterprises so that they can link in the different tiers of the production scene.” He further added, “It’s a good platform to work together to build our capacity and also integrate in the global process of business integration.”
The 2017 Investor Forum and Business Matching is part of MI’s capacity development project on Enhancing Competitiveness of SMEs in the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC) of ASEAN Mekong Subregion (AMS), a project supported by the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF).