Compare to its Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippines has attained the highest utilization of trade deals in the region, experts said as they urged other nations to adopt the country’s outreach campaigns to help more businesses reap integration
“Asean-led FTAs [free trade agreements]have been generally underused,” Alexander C. Chandra, TKN Southeast Asia Coordinator for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and Ruben Hattari, executive director of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business Advisory Council, said in a report published on December 12 in Indonesia.
Efforts to help entrepreneurs meet requirements for obtaining lower tariffs—such as programs implemented by the Philippines—could bridge the gap between Southeast Asian firms’ current preference for using bilateral instead of regional deals, the experts said.
“Notably, in many instances, the utilization rates of bilateral FTAs pursued by an individual Asean member-state are generally higher in comparison to those carried out under the Asean framework,” they added.
The experts recalled findings from an Asean-Business Advisory Council survey in 2012 stating that firms in the region were generally hindered by the lack of information on the regional bloc’s initiatives.
The Philippines, however, is said to have fared better in utilizing Asean trade deals on the back of deliberate efforts to inform firms and facilitate documentary compliance.
Chandra and Hattari pointed to findings from the Asean Secretariat in 2010 that showed that the Philippines was “rated the highest user of FTAs among Southeast Asian countries.”
They also cited previous reports pegging Philippine usage of the Asean-Australia-New Zealand trade deal at 76.1 percent in 2012, as compared against Thailand’s 24.6 percent in 2011, Vietnam’s 15.9 percent in 2011, and Indonesia’s 1 percent in 2012.
Other countries like Indonesia, which has a poor showing in utilizing FTAs, would thus do well to “learn from its neighbor, the Philippines, in its attempt to improve the awareness and utilization of the country’s FTAs,” the two experts said.
They particularly pointed to the Doing Business in Free Trade Areas (DBFTA) program of the Department of Trade and Industry, which they described as a multi-pronged effort of engaging the public, strengthening inter-agency links, and establishing policy networks.
The DBFTA program has rolled out 60 information sessions for 6,522 participants in the first half of 2013. This is on top of the 11,169 participants tallied for 2012.