Southeast Asia News & Policy Updates April 21, 2021

– Abstracted from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Southeast Asia Program

This update contains the latest developments on trade, investment, and regulations, and business in Malaysian and Regional landscape with the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic still at large.


New Investment Policy Expected.

Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Industry Azmin Ali told reporters on Tuesday that a cabinet paper on the country’s new investment policy was forthcoming this week. He said the new policy was aimed at attracting more high-quality investors and elevate Malaysia to a high-income nation. “The policy that will be introduced focuses on innovation, technology, and digital. In fact, even during my recent working visits to South Korea and Japan, they welcomed the implementation of the new investment policy,” he said. He also noted the new policy was in line with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. We will circulate the new policy to members once it is available.

Malaysia Considers Mandatory Vaccinations. 

Low participation rates in the Malaysian government’s voluntary vaccine registration system are causing officials to consider switching to mandatory shots. Since registration opened in February, 8.8 million people have signed up (roughly 36% of the eligible population of 24 million). With the government aiming for 70% of the total population vaccinated by the end of December, the sign-up rate is cause for concern. “September will be the critical point where we see if we can get to 70% by year-end,” Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said. Depending on the situation at that point, he said the cabinet would face “the tough call” of whether to make vaccinations mandatory. As of last week, about 1.08 million doses had been administered in the first phase for front-line workers, of which 425,000 were second shots. The second stage of immunizations, which began Monday, covers health care support service providers, seniors 60 years old and up, and high-risk groups. This phase is expected to last until August, after which the largest portion of citizens — over 13.7 million people aged 18 and up – will be eligible.

“Pathway for Malaysia 2021” Released.

The 2021 edition of “Pathway Malaysia” was released last week, compiling recommendations by the private sector in Malaysia in response to recent major developments. The report is produced for the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Malaysia (ASEAN BAC Malaysia), in collaboration with CARI ASEAN Research and Advocacy. This year’s report captures feedback from 46 Malaysian trade associations, chambers of commerce, professional bodies, and foreign business associations and councils based in Malaysia and contains 137 recommendations for action focusing on achieving sustainable long-term recovery and growth for the Malaysian economy. Areas of focus for this year include 1) COVID-19 recovery, 2) accessing the ASEAN market; and 3) preparing for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The completed report will be socialized at national and regional ASEAN meetings.



House Approves Southeast Asia Strategy Act.

On April 19, the U.S. House of Representatives approved HR 1083 , the “Southeast Asia Strategy Act.” Co-sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Ann Wagner (R-MO), the legislation directs the Department of State to submit to Congress a strategy for engagement with ASEAN. The strategy would identify enduring U.S. interests in the region and efforts to bolster ASEAN’s effectiveness; a list of ongoing and planned initiatives to strengthen U.S. relationships in the region, including efforts to promote inclusive economic growth and energy innovation; and, a summary of ongoing efforts to promote human rights and democracy and strengthen the rule of law.  The timeframe for the bill’s consideration in the Senate is unclear at this point.

Bianchi Nominated Asia Portfolio at USTR. 

Sarah Bianchi, a longtime aide to President Biden in his prior roles, will be nominated for a deputy U.S. Trade representative portfolio that includes Asia.  Bianchi has spent nearly a decade in government roles in economic and domestic policy including in the Office of the Vice President, the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Office of Management and Budget and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.   In 2011, she was appointed by then Vice President Biden as his head of economic and domestic policy where she ran the economic and domestic policy team in the Office of the Vice President and coordinated all policy initiatives ranging from workforce competitiveness to manufacturing to budget negotiations. She also served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and has held a number of private sector roles.  In a statement, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that “Sarah Bianchi’s deep knowledge of domestic policy and her experience on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in the private sector will be a great resource to USTR as we integrate domestic and international economic goals in our trade policy.”

DFC Calls for Distributed Renewable Energy Applications. 

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is calling for proposals for distributed renewable energy (DRE) investments. DFC will commit $100 million to support the financing of three to 10 chosen DRE investments, particularly those located in countries eligible for DFC project support , with a special focus on low and lower-middle-income countries. Companies may apply for the following investment types provided by DFC: equity financing, debt financing, and political risk insurance, as well as additional support for feasibility studies and technical assistance. DFC’s focus in the renewable energy sector is to help vulnerable populations, particularly those in low-income and middle-income countries, to attain a prosperous future by developing robust, sustainable renewable energy and electricity access systems led by private investors. Proposal submissions are due on June 18, 2021. To participate, companies must submit an online application through the DFC Forms System . The DFC will host a virtual question and answer session on May 19. Questions may be submitted to [email protected] until May 7.