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A Roundup of Development News in this Dynamic Region
January - March 2017

ASEAN 50th Anniversary Women-Related Events Graphic
The March 2017 forum is part of a series of events marking ASEAN's 50th anniversary. 
Women in the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) are taking advantage of the digital economy to get ahead. On March 16 and 17, over 170 participants gathered at "S.T.E.A.M. Ahead in ASEAN: A Forum on Women and Technology," a workshop on technology careers for women. 

According to Nora Terrado, Undersecretary in the Philippines' Department of Trade and Industry, a woman is likely to make 30 percent more in a S.T.E.A.M. career than if she pursued another kind of occupation.

The forum in Manila is the result of efforts by ASEAN to promote female entrepreneurship in its member economies. Women's participation in S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) is an important component of ASEAN's activities empowering women. 

The participants, 143 of whom were women entrepreneurs from ASEAN economies, heard a  keynote speech from Maria Ressa, CEO and founder of the Philippines-based social news network  Rappler. Representatives of PayPal Asia, Google Philippines, and Facebook Singapore spoke, sharing insight from ASEAN branches of the tech giants with the smaller enterprises in attendance. 

AWEN will be putting out a white paper based on discussions at the forum, as well as executing a detailed agenda proposed during the final session. The white paper will contribute to other events in the ASEAN 50th anniversary series preceding the November 2017 ASEAN Summit. 

The USAID ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment project (US-ACTI), which has supported AWEN since its launch in 2014, co-sponsored the forum. US-ACTI, implemented by Nathan, supports AWEN's work to empower women through business and enterprise and to improve access to finance and markets.

Contact: Tim Buehrer at
Burma-AgricultureMyanmar's Agricultural and Food Strategy Is Sustainable, Inclusive, Market-Led

Small-farm production_ agricultural input markers_ and output markets _ agrifood supply chains
Myanmar's agricultural strategy will stand on three pillars of modernization, all of which require many different kinds of investment.
The Myanmar government's new strategy for the agricultural and food sector uses a market-led, value-chain approach that has been tailored for Myanmar based on the approach's success throughout Asia. 

In preparation for the launch of Myanmar's strategy, the USAID-funded Private Sector Development Activity supported the National Economic and Social Advisory Council to develop a white paper, From Rice Bowl to Food Basket: Three Pillars for Modernizing Myanmar's Agricultural and Food Sector, published in April 2016. 

The approach modernizes (1) input delivery, (2) agricultural production, and (3) output markets and supply chains. Together, these elements constitute the agrifood value chain. To achieve such modernization requires an agriculture policy that embraces diversified, high-value production instead of a unique focus on rice; investment in business environment reforms that promote access to finance; a national quality infrastructure that assures compliance of Myanmar agricultural and food products with international standards; appropriate applications using information and communications technology; trade facilitation; and a modern food-safety regime.

Still, these plans must be country-specific. The paper was informed by two roundtables in 2016 with Myanmar and international experts and feedback from more than 50 affiliated agriculture and food business associations, the media, and civil society through the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry. 

The Activity, implemented by Nathan, served as operational leader of the white paper's development, working closely with agricultural specialists to integrate inputs into a policy-oriented format. It continues to work with stakeholders and advocacy partners on elements of the agrifood system to ensure the plan's successful implementation.

Contact: Steve Parker at
PICT-DDRDisaster-Responsive Telecom for ASEAN

Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban photo
Photo: Trocaire
ASEAN telecom regulators, disaster management officials, and members of the private sector met for the first time in February to discuss how best to use technology in responding to natural disasters. US-ACTI and its sister project US-PROGRESS organized the workshop to promote a more resilient telecommunications infrastructure throughout ASEAN.

ASEAN's 10 member states constitute the region of the world most prone to natural disasters, with more than 50 percent of global disaster deaths occurring in the ASEAN region from 2004 to 2014. In response, ASEAN is working hard to increase regional and national capacities for coping with disasters in Southeast Asia.

During the two-day meeting, members of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management and the Telecommunication Regulators Council discussed the use of a range of technologies, including mobile networks, to preserve and enhance communications before, during, and after disasters. Discussion also focused in part on innovative solutions to promoting self-help in disaster-affected communities.

Importantly, the group examined the enabling environment--
government regulations and incentives, infrastructure requirements, and capacities--needed to expand the use of these technologies.

One recommendation that came out of the meeting was for ASEAN to adopt a common Public Protection Disaster Relief frequency band for emergency use.

Meetings of the minds, like this one held in February in Singapore, further strengthen ASEAN's role as the main coordinating body for member-state disaster management, leading to a realization of the vision of "One ASEAN One Response."

Contact: Tim Buehrer at
COMPETE-SeaweedSpreading Like Seaweed

Seaweed farming photo
M&E Specialist Mr. Leandro "Poch" Tan holds open a bag for seaweed at the Palawan nursery in Quezon. Photo: Nathan
The Philippines' seaweed industry, with support from USAID's COMPETE project, is strengthening its position as a world supplier.

COMPETE works with the Palawan provincial government to increase the productivity of seaweed farmers, creating jobs and improving local incomes. Palawan's Seaweed Upscaling Program, in partnership with COMPETE, has distributed seedlings, expanded nurseries, and trained farmers.

Close to 2,500 farmers benefited from the program as of March 2017, according to data from the provincial government. About 4,000 jobs were created.

Seaweeds have many uses--animal feed, cosmetics, fertilizers, human food, and laboratory research, to name a few. The market research firm Grand View Research forecast in August 2016 that the commercial seaweed market will more than double to $22.1 billion by 2024 from its 2015 size, with the greatest expansion in demand occurring in the Asia-Pacific.

Nathan, contractor for COMPETE, identified seaweed as a potential high-value export for the Philippines in 2013. COMPETE has also supported cocoa production to increase agribusiness exports.  

Graphs - sea are planted and seaweed farmer beneficiaries

Seaweed farming provides self-help opportunities for women. Recently, a women's association in Taytay municipality began a seaweed propagation program based on COMPETE's distribution of seedlings. One recipient of seedlings passes along a share of her harvest to a randomly selected woman, who in turn propagates a new crop, then passes along a share of her harvest.

Recent activities have focused on ensuring that advances made under the seaweed and cocoa programs continue once COMPETE's support ends.

Contact: Greg Alling at
US-ATAARI-Supply-ChainsPhilippines National Logistics Master Plan Strengthened

Typhoon Haiyan photo.
Photo: Trocaire
The government of the Philippines recently incorporated key elements of an action plan, developed at an APEC workshop, into the Philippines' National Logistics Master Plan. The Philippines also revamped practices at the operational level, focusing on port congestion and inbound/outbound management, and the government revamped collaborations with service providers to minimize the damage to businesses after disasters.  

The action plan was generated at an APEC workshop and symposium organized by the US-ATAARI project in 2015. The goal of the workshop was to develop a plan to minimize disruptions and build resilience into the country's domestic and global supply chains. 
During the meeting attendees identified activities they could coordinate among government ministries and the private sector to reduce the economic and community harm from future disasters. The resulting joint action plan laid the groundwork for the effort to increase efficiencies in Philippine national, regional, and global supply chains.

The Philippines' success highlights the widespread effects of supply chain resilience work ongoing in APEC economies, the most recent of which was a March workshop and symposium on improving Papua New Guinea's resilience in global supply chains.

Contact: Ann Katsiak at
Lao-PDR-TradeLao Government Officials Hone Trade Negotiation Skills

Chess piece photo
Photo: Daniel Fitzpatrick, Nathan
For Lao PDR, a small, landlocked country just recently entering the fracas of economic integration and negotiation, "preparation is everything" is more than a well-worn adage. Because Lao PDR has just joined the WTO in 2013 and the ASEAN Economic Community two years after that, its young and sometimes thinly experienced negotiators look for every advantage possible before heading to the bargaining table.

The USAID-supported Lao PDR-U.S. International and ASEAN Integration (LUNA II) Project has been helping out with this game plan. Through research studies and training courses, LUNA II is building and improving the trade negotiation tools of Lao government officials. 

For instance, with respect to multi-country negotiations over tariff concessions, the project, in conjunction with local economists, undertook a comprehensive economic review of the Lao PDR's comparative advantage of tradable products in relation to those of its current and potential trade partners. The study has become a vital source of information for negotiating with Lao PDR's ASEAN neighbors and other countries in the region. 

But trade negotiations are not all equations and economics. LUNA II provided the government's young trade negotiators with a course that focused on various dimensions of commercial diplomacy--political economy, stakeholder analysis, and media impact--that can make or break a trade deal. One participant, for instance, has used this course and accompanying materials to analyze the costs and benefits of opening various service sectors to companies of neighboring nations. 

Utilizing research and training offered by LUNA II, Lao officials can be sure their trade decisions and negotiation strategies are well-informed and grounded in solid economic evidence. 

LUNA II is a four-year activity funded by USAID and implemented by Nathan that is helping Lao PDR further integrate into the global economy by supporting officials to develop and implement sound, modern, transparent, and inclusive economic policies and regulations. 

Contact: Dan Fitzpatrick at