February 1, 2014 — On January 24, 2014 The Asia Foundation hosted a roundtable discussion on its economic development programs, led by Veronique Salze-Lozac’h, the Foundation’s chief economist and senior director of economic development programs.
The Asia Foundation’s economic development work focuses on three distinct areas: creating business environments that allow for private sector growth, promoting regional economic cooperation, and entrepreneurship development focused at a business level.
Ms. Salze-Lozac’h highlighted the example of Bangladesh’s leather sector to illustrate the importance of public-private dialogue and partnerships. The leather industry has historically been located in downtown Dhaka, where it was unable to expand due to space restrictions and environmental concerns. Thanks to a discussion between leather industry workers and Dhaka government officials mediated by The Asia Foundation, an agreement was reached to relocate leather factories outside of central Dhaka.
To promote regional economic cooperation, the Foundation has studied barriers to regional trading, advocated for policies at national and regional levels to promote trade, and worked with regional coalitions like ASEAN and SAARC to remove impediments to trade. Ms. Salze-Lozac’h cited the cost of noncooperation for consumers in South Asia, noting that there is a $2 billion loss to consumer welfare as a result of tariff barriers, and an additional $4 billion loss due to other restrictions. These numbers indicate that economic cooperation would be beneficial to consumers in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. The nations of Southeast Asia understand and agree upon the benefits of regional economic cooperation, a consensus that is evident in the countries’ commitment to building a thriving ASEAN Economic Community.
Ms. Salze-Lozac’h was able to focus Foundation efforts on building capacity and connectivity for entrepreneurs on the micro level. In collaboration with APEC, the Foundation completed a study on women entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
Ms. Salze-Lozac’h also touched on the Foundation’s recent study on middle income countries, noting that the key challenges preventing countries such as Thailand and Malaysia from advancing to upper class nations lies in inadequate education and workforce training.