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The World Economic Forum on East Asia wrapped up this week with Ahn Ho-Young, South Korea’s Deputy Minister for Trade, saying it was dominated by “the three F’s”: food, fuel and finance.
A forum survey of the 55 business leaders who attended the two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, showed that an overwhelming 81% voted for “addressing growing global concern over environmental challenges such as climate change and water” as the top issue facing Asia.
Also of concern were “preventing political and economic instability linked to rising food and energy prices” and “managing the social, environmental and infrastructural implications of rapid urbanization.”
The survey also revealed that the price of rice had more than tripled in Thailand since January. During the same time, diesel prices have risen over 26% in Vietnam.
Water is another issue rising to the fore, with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of the Board, Nestle, Switzerland, repeating his dire warning: “We will be running out of water long before we run out of oil.”
He lamented that more of the world’s GDP was not being allocated to water: “One out of every five children is dying every 20 seconds because we haven’t been able to solve the problem of clean water today.”
Mr. Ho-Young urged Asia to do three things: “First, it is important for Asian countries to maintain their open market policies which will enable us to maintain the momentum of economic growth,” he said. Second, he urged Asian countries to pay more attention to the economic and social impacts imposed by the global economic uncertainties. Third, “Asian countries should and must play a more active role in solving global issues,” he said (Xinhua).
In his opening remarks, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah bin Ahmad Badawi referred to fundamental questions, primary assumptions, and revered assumptions, that had to be reviewed and re-evaluated. “Unless we are prepared to address these questions sincerely and take necessary remedial measures,” he said, “our economies and the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people will continue to be vulnerable. Dire situations call for bold measures” (The Toronto Star).
East Asia (generally consisting of Japan, North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, with Vietnam and Singapore) has come to the realization that it is now in a position to react positively, with the best interests of the region in mind, to the world’s economic challenges.
Ultimately, East Asia’s reaction will likely become pro-action regarding the continued economic shift away from the U.S. dollar/economy, looking more toward the European Union.