DAVAO CITY: Over 1,000 business leaders and government officials from the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) will discuss next year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) integration in a five-day conference which kicks off today in this city.
Vic Lao, chairperson of the Mindanao Business Council, said the gathering of business leaders from the subregional bloc is significant in light of the Asean integration where member nations work together with the aim of improving and accelerating the economy of the regional bloc.
It hopes to establish an “Asean single market and production base” characterized by “free flow of goods, free flow of services, free flow of investment, freer flow of capital, and free flow of skilled labor. The Asean economic community blueprint also underscored that the “single market and production base also include two important components, namely, the priority integration sectors, and food, agriculture and forestry.”
“It is for us to be prepared,” said Lao, adding that the subregional bloc must help the member countries “mitigate each other’s handicaps and highlight the strengths”.
“The Philippines has good tourism and agriculture sectors and these are our main strengths. Other countries do not have what we have, while we do not have what other Asean-member countries have,” Lao said.
The gathering will pool exporters and producers from Asean countries who are expected to share strategies and experiences and discuss about the potential impact of the integration on small and medium businesses, among others.
During the conference, there will be a trade fair where exhibitors will offer unique and innovative products and services from the subregional bloc. Over 200 companies will join the trade fair, which will feature fresh and processed products, industrial products, apparel and fashion wears.
“We will be tested on our mettle on international relations, business and trade, tourism, among others—an whether or not we will be able to compete in the international scale,” Lao said.
Earlier, a Filipino expert on labor and industrial relations expressed pessimism over the readiness of the Philippines.
University of the Philippines professor Dr. Rene Ofreneo said the Philippines is not ready for the establishment of an economic community between and among members of the Asean in 2015.
Ofreneo said the Philippines is currently suffering from an imbalanced economy—something that is highly dependent on the remittances of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and the Business Process Outsourcing industry.
“We have a different but unequal economy today,” said Ofreneo at a forum in Davao City recently. “We need a rebalancing because this economy is not sustainable.”
While he recognized how OFW remittances has buoyed the economy of the Philippines, the expert on labor said this certainly does not offer long-term solution to the economic woes of the country.
“I do not know how long we can be dependent on OFWs,” Ofreneo said.
The best way to balance the country’s economy, he said, is to rebuild the damaged agriculture sector.
And rebuilding the agricultural sector involves making sure that agricultural productivity is efficient.
“Declining investments—both public and private- on agriculture have led to declining productivity, deficient value addition and poor job creation,” he said.