Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Catharin Dalpino spoke at the Robert H. Smith School of Business on February 26, 2014 as the fifth speaker in the Office of Global Initiative’s six-part series: “Challenges to Doing Business in Emerging Markets.” Her lecture was entitled “Political and Economic Challenges to Doing Business in Southeast Asia” and it focused primarily on Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Dalpino highlighted four main challenges to doing business in the region: political instability; ethnic, religious, and communal unrest; an increasingly robust and vocal civil society; and structural problems such as corruption and uneven enforcement of the law. She also noted that the United States can cause political and economic challenges to doing business in the region when it imposes sanctions, visa bans, or other measures.
“We have to look at both sides [Southeast Asian and US] when looking at political challenges to doing business in Southeast Asia,” Dalpino said.
“Professor Dalpino's presentation highlighted how each Southeast Asian country’s political and economic situation affects the types of business the country is able to attract. For instance, Cambodia and Myanmar attract industries that require low wages such as the garment industry. Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia are wealthier and would not be considered for the same types of investment as Cambodia and Myanmar,” said Alexandra Glakas ‘15 (International Business and French). Ms. Dalpino's presentation highlighted concepts that I have learned about in my marketing, finance, and international business classes at Smith,” Glakas said.
Martin Dresner, Professor and Chair of Smith’s Department of Logistics, Business, and Public Policy moderated the presentation.
“Many people may think of Southeast Asia as a relatively uniform group of countries. However, Professor Dalpino clearly outlined the unique economic and political situations facing the countries in the region, from the very poor Laos and Myanmar to the much wealthier Singapore and Malaysia. Clearly, a business executive must understand the unique situations of these countries before deciding where to invest, contract, or trade” Dresner said.
Dalpino also noted that some issues that may appear to be a short-term disadvantage for US businesses – such as relatively strict labor and environment standards – can actually be a mid to long-term advantage. Specifically, Dalpino stated that many businesses in Southeast Asia seek US and Western investment because it leads to higher such standards.
“When I was in Myanmar last October, I talked to the owner of a clothing factory who told me she really wanted US investment in the garment industry because she knew that better labor standards would come along,” Dalpino said.
MBA/MPP student Mattie Ressler also gained valuable insights from the evening’s presentation.
“I was excited to hear Catharin Dalpino speak on an area that we frequently miss in our classes but that is still of critical business importance: international trade with Southeast Asian nations. After the discussion, I was able to speak directly with Ms. Dalpino on US-Southeast Asian partnerships for disaster response – an area critical to my studies and interests,” Ressler said.
Smith has deep and wide engagement with Southeast Asia. Over the past four years alone, the School has offered a variety of international programs, activities, and exchanges with partners in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – six of the 10 countries in the region.
The 2013-14 “Challenges to Doing Business in Emerging Markets” series was launched to bring a range of global perspectives to the Smith School so students could access on-campus global learning opportunities. Previous speakers in the series include Moisés Naím, former trade and industry minister and central bank governor of Venezuela; Felipe Larraín Bascuñán, Chilean finance minister; Chris Schroeder, technology entrepreneur and investor in Middle East start-up companies; and Smith School Professor Anil Gupta who spoke about China’s economic slowdown. On April 18, Paulo Prochno, Smith School Management and Organization Department Associate Chair, will speak on economic and cross-cultural challenges to doing business in Brazil. The series culminates on April 25 with the Center for International Business Education and Research’s fourth annual Emerging Markets Forum. The title of this year’s EMF is “Negotiating History, Culture, and Institutions in Emerging Markets” and the conference will focus on business in the Islamic world.