Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Garbutt for South Thanet MP: an ASEAN Yorktown for UK. Or Meji Kent?

I was absolutely horrified to read the latest ASEAN-US report from the EastWest Center.

Horrified at the superb level of detail in the report and extent of US-ASEAN activity:

Frankly, Britain has more than a few kilometres to travel to improve on both those aspects.

In my politics role for South Thanet MP in the 8th June election I've urged a Meiji Kent series of reforms for UK and Kent given the ongoing 2008 Great Recession and almost a year of Brexit silliness.

UK and Kent are in danger of becoming moribund and slipping further into stagnation and drift.

Especially with both Thailand and Vietnam as UK top 5 growth economies:

•$2TN in infrastructure investment in ASEAN forecast by 2030 - about the size of the whole UK economy
•500% (!) growth in ASEAN Digital Economy to $200BN by 2025
•US-ASEAN SME support already training 5,000 SME businesses in Asia

And with the fledgling Commonwealth Asia Group including Singapore, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Australia and New Zealand.

And even Cambodia was seeking membership in previous years and potentially Myanmar under Aung San's leadership.

But the US-ASEAN activity is something else - not just the glitz of a Presidential visit or Summit here and there but the weft and weave of extensive and detailed and consistent strategy.

You’d expect differences in trade volumes given USA's 350M population compared to UK's 65M - but even so.

US investment to ASEAN is more than US investment to China, Japan, South Korea and India combined.

You'd expect say California or New York with ASEAN investments and activity.

You'd expect Hawaii and California with Sister Cities in ASEAN.

And you'd expect ASEAN expat communities from Philippines or Vietnam.

But the US-ASEAN activity is strength in depth through national, state and local levels and across private and public sectors.

And ASEAN forecast to become the world's 4th largest economy by 2050 displacing Japan and EU.

A few examples picked almost at random from the report:

* Wyoming is Indonesia's 3rd largest trade partner. Wyoming(!). Landlocked Wyoming with just 500k population to Indonesia's 250M and UK’s 65M and Kent's 1.3M.

* South Carolina's exports to ASEAN have doubled since 2012

* Disaster Resilience aid from US of c.$160M

* Climate Change 500MW renewable energy for Mekong Delta nations

* USAid grants protecting 64M acres of forest since 2012 - an area the size of Oregon

* All 50 states export to ASEAN supporting 500k jobs - and 20 states export over $1BN

* 50% of all Congress districts each export over $100M to ASEAN

* ASEAN students contribute $1.7BN to US economy each year with 55k students - and c.6k US students to ASEAN

* 78 US and ASEAN head of states visits since 2000

* 25 USA colleges with SE Asian Studies

It's horrifyingly excellent.

And that's not to downplay UK efforts: establishment of a UK-ASEAN government group, UKTI/DIT efforts, both before and after Brexit referendum, on UK exports in general, and British Council for cultural activity. Individual initiatives such as British Embassy Cambodia's Skypods STEM Girls work. A G7 lead on the UN target of 0.7% GNI aid.

And UK tourism to ASEAN easily matches US efforts. And trebling of Chevening scholarships compares favourably to Fulbright, Marshall and YSEALI scholarships. UK Creative Industries efforts with new offices in South Carolina and San Diego and dedicated Hollywood office.

But it all pales into insignificance with US results in ASEAN: UK exports to Indonesia only £500M. Indeed India only £6BN. And UK efforts only kickstarted after lacklustre China exports.

And in Kent though there are the green shoots of revived efforts: Kent International Business, excellent reports by both Kent University and Canterbury Christchurch University in Canterbury on the value of international students to East Kent economy. Robust tourism efforts too from Visit Kent and Visit Thanet.

But that contrasted with weak efforts on Virginia links: the Jamestown efforts dusty and Kent-Virginia links through Manston best ignored until the Infratil directors extradition from NZ.

But astonishingly weak efforts on Pfizer/Discovery Park losing 5k jobs out of 7k: the largest US inward investment in Europe.

A lack of common sense action all the more worrying with East Kent's Tom Paine one of the founders of USA.

While Virginia's smooth as silk efforts on ASEAN stand in stark contrast to Kent:

* $153M in food and agriculture exports to ASEAN

* 10k jobs supported by ASEAN exports: a top 20 state

* 1,089 international students from ASEAN - Oregon with similar student numbers recording £38M in direct income

* 2 Sister Cities with Norfolk and Virginia Beach - interestingly out of the way Stockton California and Reno Nevada linked with Battambang and Udon Thani

There are UK quick-wins for comparatively little effort and funds:

* Digital Kent rollout from Wired Sussex

* Expand UK-ASEAN groups: trade and cultural and NGO etc etc

* Expand UK-ASEAN embassy/trade links and targets – a China-Britain Council but no equivalent for ASEAN nations

* Kent-ASEAN a template for Benelux and USA activity

* Develop similar EastWest Center documents and reports - no Kent GDP document for example exists and disparate national reports

* Expand UK-ASEAN Studies and Languages in colleges: less than 5 in UK?

* Develop ASEAN banks and universities in UK

* Develop Creative Industries exchanges: publishing, film, television

* Develop consistent timetables of visits, summits and exchanges

* Release DFID funds from World Bank deepfreeze eg for Resilience activity, Malnutrition in KH and Laos and Myanmar and PNG

* Formalise a Commonwealth-ASEAN Group, and EU Partnerships with EU embassy reviews

And more worryingly there are four other EastWest Center reports on USA in Asia, Japan, Australia and Korea that are must-reads.

UK should even be capitalising on US efforts in UK and ASEAN synergies - with USA as UK's main trade partner - not just Pfizer in Kent, but Microsoft in Reading and Ford in Bridgend and CocaCola, Starbucks and Proctor and Gamble in London. Companies already with key ASEAN case studies.

Britain is in danger - especially with the Brexit silliness: what must foreign nations think of us? - in following Turkey down the path of the Sick Man of Europe.

American can-do seems to be trumping British tea-and-biscuits tinkering.

And only in Britain could not picking winners be considered a viable Industrial Strategy.

And why shouldn't UK be a Top 3 trade partner with every ASEAN nation as a minimum through the decades?

So far though it's looking like just an ASEAN Yorktown disaster rather than a Meiji revival for Kent and UK.

Time for Change


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