The politics of the Asean economic integration

Ej Lopez

Ej Lopez

The inevitable coming of the Asean economic integration will do more harm than good to our local economy. Many are hopelessly optimistic, thinking of a possible boom for the local economy in terms of an expanded or extended market without any basis, relying on mere perception of progress and development as though this economic integration would be “manna” from heaven.

Although the local labor force may be a beneficiary of this trade treaty, it is a figment of the imagination that the entire labor force will benefit. For instance, professional jobs are listed as the priority and not the blue-collar workers of which the country has an oversupply. We always brag about the multitude of people we have locally, expecting to augment our domestic income by way of sending workers overseas, but how many of these people have the skills and technological know-how to qualify for overseas employment? The economic integration will be a melting pot of Asean development and technological advancement, not a dumping ground for unskilled individuals.

Though the intention of this modern day treaty is to promote progressive economies among the Asean members, the economic well-being of each country will determine how it will fare in the competitive world. Despite the many accolades the Philippines has received in terms of investment rating upgrades, all of which were earned on the basis only of perception (e.g., the significant elimination of graft and corruption), as far as industrial competitiveness is concerned, we have yet to see the Philippines join the elite group of leading economies.

In more concrete terms, like products and services that can compete with our Asean counterparts, a lot more need to be done and improved upon. Our agricultural sector, for instance, which we have always been proud of because of our rich natural resources, has remained stagnant thanks to the failed agrarian reform program in the country. Unless the land owners as well as the government submit themselves to the real intentions a genuine land reform program, our country and our agricultural workers, who comprise about 60 percent of our labor force, will forever be mired in poverty and hunger.

The failure and insincerity of our land reform program is a testament to why poverty and hunger will linger and will be here to stay. It should have been an opportunity for the government to equip our people to become self-sufficient and not rely on the government for their subsistence. It could have been an armor to escape the wrath of hunger and abject poverty. It could have saved the government more than P50 billion in conditional cash transfer (CCT) funds or dole-outs, but the government lost the opportunity to improve the living standards of its people not because it could not afford to fully implement the Agrarian Reform Law, but because of some political and personal concerns.
Varying economic and political interests
Though Asean economic cooperation has been in existence since the decade of the 60s, as started by Maphilindo (Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia), the regional bloc has failed to make its mark in terms of worldwide significance. Despite the regional cooperation that was initiated by the group, it failed to establish its regional identity among the community of nations. A study conducted by the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) notes that “The issue of regional identity or the lack of which has been linked to states making decisions out of national interest rather than considering the implications on the community as a whole. No clear Southeast Asian identity exists, with people sharing little by way of culture, common history or language.”

Implicitly, common interests still prevail among the Asean members but not full economic benefit. And this forthcoming integration will in no way be different from the existing Asean accord. Although a more comprehensive trade barrier is bound to be removed, product competition and identity will still prevail.

While the Asean economic integration is a positive step towards full regional and global cooperation, apprehensions about technological transfer and common interests will always be there. Political and economic protectionism will still tacitly prevail. This is natural for any political or geographical unit and reflected by any governmental organization; just like the failure of our Agrarian Reform Law, which is a microcosm of the protection of personal and political interests.

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