WITH the upcoming Asean Business and Investment Summit, it is only apt to at least familiarize ourselves with Asean and what it means for us, beyond it just being a long weekend or non-working holiday.
Asean, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was founded on August 8, 1967 in Bangkok by the following countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. It is today composed of 10 member countries, with the joining of Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia in later years. This initiative was started with the goal of promoting economic growth for the Southeast Asian countries through collaboration and cooperation from its member countries. Succeeding the Asean Connectivity 2010, the Asean leaders have adopted the Master Plan on Connectivity 2025, which emphasizes five major points –sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory excellence, and people mobility. This would attract more investors and tourists, as more information can be made available, and ease of doing transactions will be greatly enhanced.
Next week, the Asean Business and Investment Summit will be looking into strengthening economic partnerships through various initiatives such as reducing or removing non-tariff barriers, better connectivity and mobility of people and goods, and mentorships programs for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the Southeast Asian region.
The century for Asia Pacific
If in the past two centuries, the world was dominated by the Atlantic/European countries, this century will be for the Asia Pacific. Forecasts show that by the year 2050, Asia could raise its per capita income by six times, catching up to Europe’s level today.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that, in the 21st century, the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific…” These were the worlds of Hillary Clinton in 2011.
The shift of focus on the Asia Pacific region can be credited to China’s great performance, surpassing those of the United States in terms of the purchasing power parity of GDP indicators in 2014. Setting China as an example, Asian countries have been following suit and raising their performance—Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand. In recognition of this economic shift, businesses have been flowing in, strengthening their ties to Asian countries, whereas Asian countries have also been taking advantage of this shift to improve their infrastructure and tourism.
PH on the brighter side
The Philippines is blessed with so much natural resources. Time and time again, I would like to emphasize that we are No. 1 in marine biodiversity, in voice call centers, and in sailors and seafarers. I would like to believe we are also No. 1 in musicians. Everywhere I go, there are Filipino musicians. We are No. 2 in BPOs, and in geothermal energy (although I always wonder why our electricity is so expensive). We have the third longest coastline. We are No. 4 in gold reserves and in shipbuilding (thanks to the Koreans). We are No. 5 in all other mineral resources and in natural flora and fauna. Lastly, we are 12th in human resources. Whereas population in progressive countries, such as in Japan, in the United Kingdom, and Germany among others, are graying, the Philippines can take advantage of its young population to offer their services all over the world.
We are also strategically located in the center of Southeast Asia, making us the perfect gateway to Asia Pacific. The Philippines is 400 times the size of Singapore, hence we can be 400 times as productive as them. Yet I wonder why our GDP is same. With good governance, strong political will, no corruption, the Philippines is capable of emerging as one of the 19th top economies in the world in 2025, and by 2050, we can be in the top 16th.
Issues and opportunities
In order to keep up and exceed our Asean neighbors, the Philippines must be able to address at least the following issues:
1. Tourism – In Asia, tourism is a $500 million business. The Philippines, on the other hand, only has $12 million revenue from tourism activities. It does not mean that our country is not beautiful, but tourism should also be convenient for the people. A lot can be done to improve tourism like providing better connectivity in terms of transportation, better marketing, and providing more options to cater to different types of tourists, among others.
2. Traffic – The worsening problem of traffic is not anymore just a problem in Metro Manila, but also in Cebu and Davao, among others. It impacts us economically and socially, since we spend a lot of our time in traffic rather than using that time productively at work or have more quality time for the family. If we address traffic through proper land use, creating more walkable and bikeable spaces, providing efficient mass transport, better enforcement of rules and traffic management, and more affordable housing near places of work, among other principles of good planning and design, I believe the Philippines will be most attractive for businesses and investments from all over the world.
3. ICT infrastructure – In his recent visit in the Philippines, Jack Ma remarked that our Internet speed was “no good.” Slow Internet connection is one of the things that could turn off businessmen and investors like Jack Ma from investing in our country. It also hinders our productivity at work and our ability to support education and innovation.
The Philippines is now in a good position to strengthen its economic capabilities and improve its infrastructure. With President Duterte’s Build Build Build, together with the Asean Master Plan on Connectivity 2050, the prospects for fulfilling the forecasts are brighter.