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A Roundup of Development News in this Dynamic Region
April - June 2017
hanoi-tradeA Nathan Roundtable on Shifts in Asia Pacific Trade

The Asia Pacific region is abuzz with innovative technologies that create new opportunities and challenges for the economies of the region. At the same time it is buffeted by seismic changes in policy regimes from around the world. Vietnam, host of the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, is helping to guide responses to changes in policy and technology for itself and the region. During the APEC Second Senior Officials' Meetings (SOM2) and Related Meetings in Hanoi in May 2017, Nathan invited key policymakers from APEC economies, business leaders, and representatives of international organizations to discuss the changes and possible responses.

Nathan's President & CEO Susan Chodakewitz kicked off the roundtable discussion moderated by Dr. Timothy Buehrer, Chief of Party of the ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment (US-ACTI) project, and Nathan Principal Associate. He framed the discussion by highlighting global trade environment changes such as the rise in trade of intermediate goods, the increase in non-tariff barriers, the U.S. withdrawal from TPP, and the rise of RCEP. Nathan Senior Vice President and Global Advisor for Ports and Infrastructure, Dr. Paul Kent, spoke about disruptive trends in the global economy such as trade in digital goods and 3D printing.

Ambassador Michael Michalak, Former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam and Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director for the US-ASEAN Business Council, highlighted Vietnam's record in embracing private sector trade opportunities, and how Vietnam could reorient to benefit from the emerging trade environment. Dr. Vo Tri Thanh, Senior Advisor at the Central Institute for Economic Management, focused on challenges facing Vietnam as it transitions to a middle income country. He outlined policy issues including how to stimulate innovation, improve environmental controls, and address labor issues. 

During the follow-up question and answer period, attendees explored education, the role of women in the Vietnamese economy, and the degree to which Vietnam will provide greater market access in future free trade agreements.

This was the first in a series of events that Nathan will be hosting around the world to highlight the trade challenges that companies and nations face today and possible approaches to addressing them. The next event will be held in September in London. 

Contact: Rachid Benjelloun at
luna-trademarkLao PDR Handles New Flow of Trademark Applications

Logos of various companies that filed for trademark protection in Lao PDR (trademarked logos may vary from ones shown).
Lao PDR's Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) now has equipment and training to handle surging trademark applications, many from U.S. companies and organizations. Trademark protections will increase business opportunities for the global companies and striving Lao businesses.

The applications are pouring in because Lao PDR last year joined the Madrid Protocol, an international treaty that permits trademark registration in multiple countries through a single application. USAID provided the equipment and sponsored four DIP staff interns in Singapore through the Lao PDR-U.S. International and ASEAN Integration Project (LUNA II), implemented by Nathan.

U.S. companies and organizations accounted for more than 20 percent of approximately 1,100 applications filed in Lao PDR since last year. A small but growing number of Lao food, beverage, and apparel businesses are registering trademarks regionally and beyond. A Lao food processing company, for example, requested trademark protection in eight countries using the system supported by USAID, at as little as one-fifth the cost of filing through an IP lawyer in each country.

Contact: Dan Fitzpatrick at
ECFASEAN Regulators Explore Game-Changing Financing for SMEs: Equity Crowdfunding

Participants at the May workshop. Photo: Erna Indraprihastuti
Funding for small businesses is critical to regional growth, but small and medium enterprises (SMEs) almost universally identify access to finance as a key challenge. This is particularly true for financing that is too large for microfinance institutions or banks, but too small for traditional capital markets.

Equity crowdfunding (ECF) fills a gap in small business access to financing by selling stock in startups to individual investors through online platforms. ASEAN countries working to promote alternative financing options for SMEs are interested in developing regulations to facilitate ECF, while protecting investors. Malaysia introduced crowdfunding rules in 2015; Thailand expects regulated equity crowdfunding to start this year.

USAID's US-ACTI project, implemented by Nathan, is preparing a comprehensive report on ECF regulation. In May, the preliminary results of this study were presented to regulators at a workshop held in Kuala Lumpur.

The workshop brought together public and private sector participants, including the six operators of crowdfunding platforms registered with Malaysia's Securities Commission. Discussion focused on the ways different jurisdictions protect investors without putting undue burdens on issuers or platforms.

The study, "Facilitating Equity Crowd Funding in the ASEAN Region," by Professor Ian Ramsay of the University of Melbourne's Melbourne Law School, will be published by the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises later this year.

Contact: Tim Buehrer at
digital-tradeAPEC Forum Advances Roadmap for Digital Trade

Speakers at the May event. Photo: US-ATAARI
Close to 90 participants from APEC economies gathered May 12 in Hanoi to examine the many opportunities created by digital trade, which includes the flow of digital data across borders, and the many challenges to facilitating such trade. 

The event marked a critical step in preparing an APEC roadmap for the internet economy, and in time for submission to APEC Ministers meeting in November.

Government and industry representatives, including Google and Citi Vietnam (Citigroup), took part in the gathering, the APEC Trade Policy Dialogue on Digital Trade. University and think-tank experts also gave their views. It was the third forum since 2016 devoted to identifying practices that promote digital trade, and was facilitated by the  US-APEC Technical Assistance to Advance Regional Integration (US-ATAARI) project, implemented by Nathan Associates for USAID and the U.S. Department of State. 

Small and medium-size enterprises, recognized as growth drivers in APEC, stand to benefit from the opportunity to handle many business functions and grow sales online (cloud computing). Digital tools expand financial services, including to the poor. Digital trade also improves essential health care. 

The many challenges include closing the digital divide, having the right infrastructure, protecting digital privacy and intellectual property, crafting rules that enable innovation, and ensuring people know how to use digital tools.

Contact: Ann Katsiak at
e-commerceCreating an ASEAN E-Commerce Ecosystem

Participants at the June 14 workshop. Photo: Maria Ghozali
While ASEAN's digital economy is small by global standards today, it is estimated to grow 500 percent and be worth more than $200 billion by 2025. ASEAN is seeking to encourage even more rapid growth by adopting a regional e-commerce agreement. The challenge in developing an agreement is that it will have to cover a wide range of traditional sectors and therefore cannot be developed by any one of ASEAN's existing committees. Thus, ASEAN created the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on E-Commerce to address this issue.

The committee was interested in getting a better understanding of the key issues from the private sector and turned to USAID's US-ACTI project, which is implemented by Nathan Associates. Working with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council and the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, US-ACTI organized a one-day public-private consultation on June 14 in Singapore. 

During the session, major international corporations, regional internet players, and SMEs made suggestions for specific issues that could be addressed in a regional agreement. Major ideas that stood out during the workshop included the need for: a regional approach to consumer protection and complaint resolution; national electronic IDs and signatures that are regionally accessible; data privacy protection; arrangements to facilitate cross-border payments for small transactions; simplified border procedures for modest-value shipments; flexible regulatory approaches to spur innovation; improved protections and registration for intellectual property; and simple systems to return cross-border purchases and rebate taxes and duties.

Contact: Tim Buehrer at
consumer-protectConsumers Gain Support as Economic Force in Myanmar

Myanmar's consumers can expect a greater voice and more protections because of activities supported by USAID.

In June, the Myanmar Consumer Union introduced an Android-based mobile application for consumers to use to submit complaints and complete satisfaction surveys. The Consumer Union also introduced a website that consumers can use to do the same. Both tools will supply their information to the Department of Consumer Affairs.

A USAID grant through the Private Sector Development Activity, implemented by Nathan, supported the app and website. The Consumer Union, formed in 2012, won official recognition as a non-governmental organization through efforts supported by a USAID grant.

The USAID-funded Private Sector Development Activity recently intensified its work with the Department of Consumer Affairs (Ministry of Commerce) and parliamentarians as they revise consumer law. The updated Law on Consumer Protection must meet ASEAN requirements and be enforceable. Other issues revolve around product safety, product recalls, and investigations of consumer complaints. The aim is for Myanmar's Parliament to enact the revised law before an ASEAN meeting on consumer protection in October.

All efforts recognize that governments become more transparent and effective when consumers have a voice. Consumer products achieve higher quality, which would make them more desirable in domestic and export markets.

Contact: Steve Parker at
women-stemAPEC Workshop Sparks Greater Momentum for Women in STEM

A summary graphic of the framework issued last year for encouraging women's participation in STEM fields.
The gender gap in women's participation and leadership in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) continues to impede economic growth, competitiveness, and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific. APEC made significant strides in addressing these gaps through a regional workshop that examined key issues hindering women's engagement across STEM fields.

More than 70 participants including government officials and representatives from companies and nonprofit organizations attended the May 14-15 workshop, which was held on the margins of APEC's Second Senior Officials Meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam. These key participants charted out priority policy interventions that both governments and businesses can undertake to address employment and skills gaps and more comprehensively engage and retain women in these key sectors and support inclusivity.

Participants at the May workshop. Photo: US-ATAARI
"We know from the data that there is an under-representation of women in STEM fields--not only as students and researchers, but also as managers, leaders and entrepreneurs--which significantly hinders sustainable economic growth and prosperity throughout the region," said Ann Katsiak, Chief of Party for US-ATAARI, which Nathan is implementing.

The APEC Women in STEM Framework, developed by US-ATAARI in 2016 and endorsed by APEC, recommended actions that could be implemented, by means of the enabling environment, and through education, employment, and entrepreneurship, to narrow the gender gap in STEM. Participants in the Hanoi workshop identified specific opportunities for action that included public-private partnerships, and shared best practices for promoting women in STEM fields, expanding access to capital for entrepreneurs in STEM fields, and analyzing the economic impact for economies and businesses of greater participation by women across STEM fields. A forthcoming report will inform future actions.

Contact: Ann Katsiak at
ASWASEAN Single Window Progress Accelerates

Port operations in Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Deborah Tomasawa
The ASEAN Single Window (ASW) entered a new phase in April. That is when ASEAN's Project Management Office took over full operation of the regional single window, which is reducing cargo clearance times and costs in the region through quicker, more efficient handling of trade documents.

The ASW connects and integrates the national single windows, some still in development, of ASEAN member states. USAID's US-ACTI project, implemented by Nathan, has worked with ASEAN since 2013 to design and implement exchange software, create a legal and regulatory environment, and otherwise support ASEAN along with its 10 member states in the development of the ASW, as well as providing related support for the implementation of single windows at the national level.

In another step, Vietnam joined Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand in May in exchanging live data from ASEAN certificates of origin, which are required for a shipment to qualify for a preferential tariff. Brunei will join the system soon and US-ACTI is working with the rest of the ASEAN Member States to bring them into the system by 2018.

And the ASW will also be expanding its coverage of documents in the next year. US-ACTI is supporting member states to exchange export declaration information and sanitary and phyto-sanitary certificates. The latter are often required for trade in animal and plant products.

Contact: Tim Buehrer at