ASEAN nations should allow more talent flows for greater economic integration regionally, say Asia's business experts.
In the quest for sustainable growth, Asean governments should facilitate the movement of external talents, rather than devise fixes to protect domestic jobs and industries.
Indeed, these countries will probably suffer in the short run, but in the long run those willing to embrace integration will do the best, said Philip Zerrillo, deputy dean of programmes at Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business.
"Already we are starting to see policies which restrict the movement of people in the region," said Prof Zerrillo. "But the portability of talent is a great part of national champions being able to go abroad regionally and execute their business models."
He acknowledged that managing border flows has been a topic for "great conversation", but maintained that being able to bring core talent capable of making local decisions "has always been part of the recipe to minimise execution risk".
The call for smoother flows of labour has become more urgent in recent years, given labour shortages in countries such as Singapore and Thailand, Prof Zerrillo pointed out.
"Even Thailand is below the replacement level. . . The average age of the Thai farmer has increased nearly 20 years over the past 25 years," he said, noting that agriculture has been among Thailand's most competitive sectors. "The question is whether this will continue when the average age of the Thai farmer has exceeded 50 years of age."
Prof Zerrillo also cited economic disparities across regional countries as a potential roadblock to Asean's integration.
He said that countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos struggle with productivity issues "even in the most basic industries such as agriculture", because of limited irrigation and poor farm-to-market roads.
Twitter's managing director of online sales in the Asia-Pacific, Aliza Knox, similarly observed differences among Asean's individual markets, noting that a majority are emerging economies still in transition from feature phones to smartphones.
Nevertheless, Twitter remains optimistic and views Asean as a key part of its Asia-Pacific strategy, she said. "Indonesia is one of Twitter's top user markets worldwide, while Singapore is where we've chosen to base our Asia-Pacific headquarters."
Prof Zerrillo added: "Asean has grown a compound annual growth rate of no less than 5.9 per cent during any five-year period over the past 30 years; the bringing together of these nations into an economic bloc will encourage great investment in the region."
Ms Knox and Prof Zerrillo will be among the speakers at the inaugural Asia Pacific CEO Congress on Aug 18 and 19 at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre.
Co-organised by Singapore Press Holdings' conference arm Sphere Conferences and The Business Times, the event will bring together more than 250 top executives from various key sectors across Asia.
They will debate and strategise on key business issues, including intensified globalisation, strategic philanthropy, and engaging necessary human capital.