Good news: At the Asean Economic Community Forum on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Department of Trade & Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, Committee on Asean Economic Community Chairman, and DTI Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal, Jr. both said that we should be ready and we are ready for the official start of the Asean Economic Integration on January 1, 2016! The other speakers, namely Dr. Cielito Habito, Assistant Secretary Rafaelita Aldaba, Private Sector Co-chair of the National Competitiveness Council Guillermo Luz and game changers Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Honorary Chairman Sergio Ortiz-Luis, Jr., Management Association of the Philippines President Gregorio Navarro, Asean Business Advisory Council Philippine Representative Jay Yuvallos and DTI Regional Director Asteria Caberte all agreed that there is still a lot to be done, but we are prepared to join the Asean Economic Community.
More good news: Important sectors of our society are contributing to our readiness—the academe, Technical Education and Skills Development Academy, private business —large, medium, small, labor organizations and government. The benefits of a collective market—600 million people—will surely augur well for a dynamic and profitable business activity. We are lagging, in more ways than one, in many aspects of the economy, but we are getting there. And as the speakers all said we need a lot more innovation, adoption of appropriate technology, improvement of the quality of our education, faculty and research output, step up education and training of our human resource, creating more niches and attracting more foreign investors. For example, one speaker suggested, we could develop our dental practice and make it our niche since we have very good dental schools and so many students enrolled in these courses. Not one country in Asean has focused on the dental practice.
Some challenging news: out of the 400 universities in the whole world ranked in 2013, Mr. Luz noted that two came from Singapore, one from Thailand and none from the Philippines. Out of 834 universities ranked in 2013, 29 came from the Asean. The highest ranked entry in the Philippines was the University of the Philippines, at No.380. UP was ranked No. 10 of the ten highest ranked schools in Asean.
Obviously, we need to do something about our educational system radically and quickly. Still our best resource is our people—English-speaking, talented, skillful, quick-learner, hard-working, creative and, may I add, team player.
The Asean Economic Community: why should we get excited about it? Adrian Cristobal reports that the AEC is all about
• making trade and investments flow freely
• creating an enabling environment for business to prosper
• ensuring that everybody participates and benefits in the development process
• seizing opportunities in the global market.
Actually, Mr. Cristobal continues, the Philippines and other Asean countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia Thailand and Vietnam) have already been engaged in an economic community to a certain extent. As of 2010, all duties have been eliminated for all products except swine, poultry, cassava, sweet potatoes and corn (all at 5 percent). Rice duty will remain at 40 percent until 2015 and 35 percent by 2015. Sugar duty was 18 percent in 2013, 10 percent in 2014 and eventually 5 percent by 2015.
Next to be opened is the services industry: Engineering, nursing, architectural, surveyors, medical, dental, accountancy. The agreement here is that the professionals still need to pass the qualifying exam in the country where they intend to provide their service.
Mr. Cristobal said that to be really ready, we need to comply with our commitments, enhance our competitiveness, especially address the “ease of doing business” issues, promote collaboration between and among government, private sector, labor, academe and civil society organizations and intensify communication to promote one country, one voice and to form private-public partnerships.
The Philippines has a lot to gain from the AEC and is well positioned to seize opportunities. Mr. Cristobal asserted that we are the fastest growing among Asean members, second largest in Asean in terms of population, youngest workforce with 23.3 years as the median age, second to Lao PDR, and showing consistent upward trajectory in terms of score and global ranking (Global Trade Enabling Index and Global Competitiveness Index).
I personally feel very positive about the AEC. We could not survive on our own. We need allies who could be loyal to us just as we are loyal to them. Our biggest predator is China. With AEC, we can stop China from dumping (smuggling?) their goods here.
We will have access to quality products made in our neighbor countries at competitive prices. One more thing about AEC is that only products made inside member countries could be traded, duty-free.