Last week, the Philippines was host to three Asean maritime events, the 42nd Senior Transport Officials Meeting (STOM) from November 14 to 16, back to back with the 22nd Asean Transport Ministers Meeting (ATM) from November 17 to 18, and simultaneously with STOM was the Asean Port Authorities (APA) meeting.
As Asean transport ministers and senior maritime officials head back home, the Philippines will certainly undertake a post evaluation of how well the hosting of these events went. Undoubtedly, the famed Filipino hospitality was much appreciated by our Asean friends. Preparations for these meetings, painstakingly planned and executed, surely must have exceeded expectations. Post assessment of these events will set the stage for a grander celebration for the 50th Asean anniversary to be held in the Philippines in 2017. With the party-loving temperament of the Filipino and his penchant for meticulous preparations, I am confident the Philippines will be able to deliver on these expectations.
Moving on to substantive issues we ask what gains did the Philippines earn from these Asean meetings? We know that Asean meetings provide a platform for discussions on matters of collective interest to member nations. In the maritime sector, the results of the Asean Maritime Transport Working Group (MTWG) meeting which recently met in Bohol, were reported in last weeks meeting of the STOM and ATM.
We wonder what in the MTWG agenda would have impact on the country in general and the ordinary Filipino and the maritime industry in particular. Are results of the MTWG, STOM and ATM meetings studied and deliberated against the country’s national objectives and plans? And are stakeholders, industry, the public and government (other than those involved in these meetings) informed of such results?
These are questions deemed important in light of the push towards an Asean Economic Community (AEC), which aims to achieve regional economic integration. Backed up by an action plan and roadmap with clear targets and timelines for each sector, the AEC includes in its blueprint a single market and production base, which gravitates toward the global market.
Toward an Asean single shipping market
“The Asean Single Shipping Market (ASSM) is one of the measures identified in the roadmap towards an Integrated and Competitive Maritime Transport in the Asean region. The ASSM is in fact a continuing objective adopted bythe Asean Transport Action Plan which calls for the formulation and implementation of a common regional shipping policy.Liberalization in maritime transport services and the harmonization of requirements in the provision of such services underpins the ASSM.
“More than realizing the regional objectives of a single shipping market, we need to understand what this means to an archipelagic country like the Philippines. For Member States, this means undertaking policy, legal and infrastructure reforms. The partial relaxation of the cabotage policy in domestic shipping must have been accelerated as part of the action steps identified in the country’s national strategy to achieving this AEC Blueprint target of ASSM.”
During the 42nd Asean STOM and 22nd ATM, the mantra: BUILD, BUILD, BUILD was uttered both by Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, heralding the biggest and the most aggressive infrastructure push the country ever had. The plan to build more seaports and roads must have been aligned to the national transport plan towards achieving the measures identified under the ASSM.
Related to this, Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade informed the delegates of the Philippine and Indonesian initiatives to jumpstart the Asean RORO Shipping Network and Short Sea shipping with the Davao-Gensan-Bitung route as the initial connection.
The stream of opportunities to be created by the AEC is much anticipated, so is the competition posed by our neighbors. In translating Philippine commitment to the actualization of the regional integration, it is important for Government to obtain stakeholders buy-in in order to ensure success in its implementation.
We look forward with much eagerness to Government’s communicating the results of the Asean meetings concluded last week and how Philippine commitment and agreements made are to be translated into national policies and programs that will eventually benefit the country.