Asean sect gen says Thailand is moving too slowly in preparing for 2015 community

Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, last week voiced concern over Thailand’s slow pace of preparation for the Asean Economic Community, when seven professions will be the first areas of the labour market to be freed up in 2015.

“If we’re not prepared, we’re not qualified, we’re not able to compete while others are moving into the Thai economy and landscape. I’m worried that they will take advantage of our country,” he said.

He was speaking at the Asia Education Leaders Forum co-located with Worlddidac Asia at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre.

To facilitate labour mobility under the AEC, Asean agreed to mutual recognition of professional accreditation.

Asean has already concluded mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) for seven occupations – medical practitioners, dental practitioners, nursing services, engineering services, architectural services, surveying qualifications, and accountancy services.

Professionals who are accredited as agreed in the MRAs will be recognised in all member countries, enabling them to work more easily in any member country.

The MRAs have taken in two more professions, hotel services and tourism, which consist of 32 positions.

According to the AEC’s blueprint for the free flow of skilled labour – allowing for managed mobility or facilitated entry for the movement of natural persons engaged in trade in goods, services and investments, according to the prevailing regulations of the receiving country – Asean is working to smooth the issuance of visas and employment passes for Asean professionals and skilled workers engaged in cross-border trade and investment-related activities.

“Our professionals can cross borders. Dentists from Thailand can open up clinics in Singapore. Accountants from the Philippines can practise in Malaysia. Malaysian architects can open up consulting companies in Brunei, crossing the border, because there wouldn’t be any economic borders between us anymore, 10 economies and 600 million people.

“Without quality education or preparation, it is impossible to imagine the economic community of Asean,” Surin said.

“People in these seven professions are going across borders. The question is who will be able to cross borders? Will Thai engineers, nurses, doctors and architects be able to cross borders? Teachers, schools and institutions will have to ask, and the answer is no, we are not quite sure.

“So, education is critical, fundamental and a necessary condition for that economic community in 2015. We are promoting goods, investments and also professionals crossing the borders – but without preparation and quality some member states will lag behind others,” he said.

Although quality education would help Thailand move forward into the future, politicians, having become policymakers, have not achieved such quality education.

“We are only interested in the Ministry of Education because it has the largest budget. Every political party here is interested in the ministry because it has the largest number of people, teachers, students and parents. For many years, many governments, we have not seen one party or one minister going to the ministry because of their passion for the future that Thailand has to compete with the world, because of the budget,” he said.

The English language skills of Thai skilled workers were also a concern. It would be useless if a dentist cannot communicate with his or her patients speaking another language in another environment no matter how skilful he or she is in their profession.

“English is the working lan-guage of Asean. That’s what Thailand needs to do and do urgently. There is no interpreta-tion unlike the European Union where you have to translate everything into 12 or 13 languages. The most expensive part of the EU is interpretation/translation,” he said.

He has been spreading this same message in Indonesia and Vietnam and all the member states of Asean to encourage every country to prepare for the AEC.

“We must put our efforts into training our pupils for future cooperation and prosperity for the entire region. This is a combined US$2.1 trillion GDP, almost half of China is being produced here.

“We trade with the world and with each other more than we produce. We have to compete with the emerging countries like India and China. Those who are not prepared will be left on the sidelines,” the secretary-general said.

However, a publication from Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence Centre issued early this year said that despite mutual recognition, labour movement might not be so easy in practice.

Many countries still preserve rules and regulations that may prevent labour mobility from happening. For example, medical personnel who wish to work in Thailand will have to obtain a licence by passing an examination, some parts of which are in Thai. There are also other obstacles such as differences in language, culture and social acceptance.

Anyhow, it would be better if Thais prepared themselves for the changes in the AEC as Surin urged, rather than doing nothing. –Wannapa Khaopa, The Nation