Members of the Conservative Foreign & Commonwealth Council (CFFC) met in the House of Lords on the Evening of 14th December to discuss the two way trade and business opportunities between the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the U.K.
An excellent line -up of speakers had been arranged by Melissa Crawshay-Williams of the CFCC comprising the Deputy High Commissioner of Malaysia, Mr Zahid Rastam, in the absence of the High Commissioner of Malaysia, HE Dato’ Zakri Jaafar, who was attending a Summit Meeting between ASEAN and the EU; To Minh Thu, the Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission for The Republic of Vietnam, in the absence of the Ambassador HE Dr Nguyen Zhang Long, who was attending also the ASEAN/EU Summit; Mr Henry Tillman, of China Investment Research, who has recently produced a report on U.K.-Malaysia cross border investment; Mr Martin Barrow and Rachael Harrington of Visit U.K. The Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford, CFCC’s Patron, presided.
Lord Howell welcomed the guest speakers from Malaysia, a Commonwealth member nation and old friend of the U.K. and Vietnam, a new friend, who would be very welcome to join the expanding Commonwealth group of nations if it wished. He referred to the fantastic growth and dynamism of the 10 nation ASEAN group referring to a high speed railway construction project in Vietnam as an example of the infrastructure development taking place and the potential scale and reliability of the ASEAN grouping of nations as a trading partner as a whole for the U.K. To re-emphasise this latter point, he quoted a US source involved with China trade, that China needed to behave more like Vietnam for exemplary trade relations (sic).He then invited the speakers to address Members in the order of the programme.
To Minh Thu speaking on behalf of her Ambassador of Vietnam referred to the close strategic partnership between the U.K. and Vietnam which have been developing strongly since diplomatic relations were restored almost 50 years ago to be celebrated in 2023 with high ranking exchanges and cultural events. A free trade agreement was signed at the end of 2020 since when, trade between the U.K. and Vietnam has increased by almost 11%. A Strategic Partnership signed in 2010 covering, amongst others, political - diplomatic cooperation, education training, science and technology, as well as defence and security, was refreshed in 2020 . Against the background of the U.K.’s ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific region, Vietnam is supportive of the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). She confirmed that Vietnam is committed to the development of ASEAN and welcomed Timor-Leste joining the Association.
Regarding Vietnam’s economic development, she confirmed that Vietnam is recovering strongly post COVID with GDP increasing by nearly 9% in 9 months of 2022 ranking Vietnam 2nd in the world in Nikkei’s COVID recovery index. Vietnam has also been accredited with a sharp rise in the world’s best quality of life index and the only country in the Asia-Pacific region to have had its credit rating upgraded by Moody’s in the year to date. She ended by referring to the high hopes and expectations for the continuing growth of U.K./Vietnamese cooperation .
Zahid Rastam, whose talk was later circulated, gave a run down of the domestic political scene in Malaysia and the continuance of a pragmatic foreign policy. This included ASEAN remaining a cornerstone of foreign policy and support for Timor-Leste to become admitted to the association as the 11th member. He referred to the 65 years of close relations with the U.K.; the commitment to membership of the Commonwealth, defence cooperation (including Australia and New Zealand) and to Malaysia having supported the granting of Dialogue Partner Status to the U.K. with ASEAN at a recent ASEAN conference. As a fully ratified member of the Comprehensive Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Malaysia is engaged in the discussions regarding the accession by the U.K. to the Partnership. He referred to the trade imbalance with the U.K. which is in Malaysia’s favour and he urged the U.K. to focus on Malaysia and the South East Asia and Indo-Pacific region in the areas of green technology, digital technology and sustainable development projects. Malaysian Investment in the U.K. was predominately in real estate and redevelopment, banking and financial services amounting to more than £20 billion.
Henry Tillman presented materials which confirmed Malaysia’s over $20 bilion investments in the UK , with a particular focus on the increasing amounts over the past decade, two of which are major infrastructure projects in London and Bristol. Conversely, UK businesses investing in Malaysia have shown little interest in new large Malaysian investments in the past decade (except for Shell's recent JV investment in offshore gas)-this despite Malaysia's record FDI levels- USA and EU companies leading in Malaysian semiconductor investments while Asian and GCC countries lead in Malaysia’s energy transformation programme. The Deputy High Commissioner noted that there is a Joint Committee now studying these UK Malaysia trends, as Malaysia would like future UK inbound investment to increase.
THE REBUILDING OF TRAVEL & TOURISM IN BOTH DIRECTIONS
Martin Barrow talked about the importance of recovering travel and tourism in both directions between the UK and ASEAN, which has huge potential. All countries of ASEAN have so much to do and see, as does the UK. He stressed that the value of travel and tourism is often not understood across the world as it is not just the value of visitor spend but the soft-power value is huge in contributing to global understanding and harmony, and many UK companies supply the sector across the world; Rolls-Royce engines and Diageo whisky being just two examples.
There remains more to do to ensure the sector is always on the top agenda alongside trade and investment, financial services and education. Most important of all, in rebuilding post-Covid there is a critical need for TECH across the world: TECH = Teamwork, Engagement, Collaboration, Harmony. We must all work together between governments and the Private Sectors in simplifying processes ranging from visa simplification, eliminating labour shortages, airport capacity as well as working together on sustainability and environmental issues. It is also important that the links to inward investment and education are prioritised, as inward investors and overseas students in a country mean that there will be more visitors coming to see them, and business travellers often stay on in various places as tourists. All the countries of ASEAN and the UK are fully without any formal open quarantine processes, although it remains normal to ensure vaccine certificates are valid
Rachael Farrington, Head of Tourism Affairs at Visit Britain, joined the panel and stressed the progress made in opening up the UK and ensuring that the very wide range of locations and activities across all parts of the UK is fully understood.
Lord Howell, having thanked the speakers, invited questions from Members.
Not previously covered but answered by Zahid Rastram and To Minh Thu was a question relating to China and Taiwan.
Both speakers confirmed that whereas their respective nations recognise China’s ‘One China’ policy and have to be pragmatic, both their governments are against the use of force.
Lord Howell then closed what had been an excellent and informative evening, reiterating his earlier comment that Vietnam consider joining the Commonwealth. Lord Sassoon and Rt Hon Lord Taylor of Holbeach also joined the meeting. Thanks to Melissa Crawshay-Williams and her team for organising the evening.