Let’s call a spade a spade: regional economic integration-envisioned to create one common market for the countries comprising ASEAN is fraught with as much risks as opportunities.

Cutthroat competition, price wars, and economic displacement loom large in the minds of many, with the realization that many local enterprises have no competitive advantages to speak of in the free trade arena. As countries race to prepare themselves for the 2015 deadline, not a few organizations and individuals are realizing that there is so much to do in so little time.

But whether countries are prepared or not, regional economic integration is inevitable and in less than two years, Filipino firms will have to embrace all the possibilities that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will bring.

As 2015 approaches, conversations regarding AEC are growing, with many individuals bringing forward ideas on how Filipinos can collectively work to prepare for the country’s entry into the free trade arena.

Many of these conversations took place during the AEC Exchange fora—a series of discussions that took place on the initiative of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), which signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council of the Philippines in 2012.

The AEC Exchange was conceptualized when MAP realized that too few businessmen knew about the AEC, even if they stood to be greatly affected by it.

The discussions inevitably boiled down to one point-the need to strengthen the Philippine domestic economy before the floodgates of trade are thrown open. Hinged on this are various measures that need to be undertaken to shore up Philippine industry in preparation for the vigorous competition as well as the tremendous opportunities that AEC will foster. At the minimum, policy changes at the macroeconomic and microeconomic levels will be necessary to strengthen industries and companies ahead of the AEC.

I believe, though, that it is imperative for all firms, regardless of size, to prepare themselves for all eventualities that the AEC would bring. Each firm would need to identify its strengths and comparative advantages in order to stay ahead of the competition in this new, and immensely more challenging environment. Introspection, I always say, is a must in this rough and tumble world, and it holds true for both individuals and organizations.

Allow me then to add to the ongoing conversation on how organizations can prepare for economic integration with what I call the “ABC to AEC.”

A stands for Audit. This entails scanning your environment to understand the threats and opportunities that are present, or may arise, both domestically and from neighboring countries. At the same time, it calls for examining one’s value chain—procurement, operations, distribution, marketing, human resources—to identify one’s sources of strength and weakness. This exercise in stock taking should allow one to come up with enough inputs for business mapping.

B is about building your brand. One’s brand reflects the potential and the promise of the company, and in the regional arena, your brand will be a source of differentiation for your company. Therefore, it is crucial to strengthen your company’s image and reputation as credible player in the region. This calls for embracing the basic tenets of corporate governance and transparency. At the same time, it also calls for aligning the brand with the needs of the market.

C is about communication. Having built up your comparative strengths, it is necessary to communicate this to the proper audience using appropriate platforms. What differentiates your company, products and services in the new regional battlefield? How would the company forge forward? How will the AEC change things for everyone in the company and how could each one contribute to ease the company’s transition into the new reality? Enterprises should be able to connect with relevant stakeholders, both internal and external, and engage them in meaningful interaction in target locations at the proper time.

There are, of course, many strategies to adopt. Yet I always stress that in this time of great change, when there are more questions than answers, the most valuable tool one can accumulate is information that hopefully, can be processed into knowledge. Knowledge enables people and organizations to prepare for the uncertainties that they can and cannot foresee, and come up with innovations to put them ahead of the competition. Innovation, I dare say, is the one competitive advantage that will always stay valuable for enterprises in all economic climates.

To provide the Filipino business community with the information and knowledge to prepare for the AEC’s myriad challenges, the MAP will have as its theme “Business Beyond Borders: Global Perspectives, Domestic Dynamics” at the 11th MAP International CEO Conference 2013 which is copresented by BusinessWorld and Healthway. Through the various presentations, attendees can learn from the global experiences of other companies to find new areas for innovation and explore possibilities for cross-border collaboration.

International speakers will lead a series of hard-hitting discussions on the pitfalls and prospects of AEC 2015. To give everyone a comprehensive understanding of the AEC, Indonesia-based H.E. Le Luong Minh, Secretary-General of Asean, will provide an overview with his talk entitled “Business beyond Borders: The AEC Experience.”

Taking a regional perspective, Jayant Menon, Lead Economist of Office of Regional Economic Integration of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), will speak on “The World and a Borderless Asean: The Regional Perspective.” The global view will also be discussed in the talk “The World and a Borderless Asean: The Global Perspective” by France-based Thierry Apoteker, CEO and Chief Economist, TAC Applied Economic and Financial Research.

To illustrate the AEC’s possible impacts on specific sectors, in particular the health industry, Malaysia-based Dato’ Dr. Jacob Thomas, President of Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia and President of Asian Hospitals Federation, will talk on “The Internationalization of Healthcare: HR Mobility and Talent Retention.”

The challenges of integration calls for leaders to take their companies and industries past the uncertainties and parlay threats into opportunities. Recognizing this, Canada-based Doug Keeley, Founder and Global CEO of The Mark of a Leader, will deliver an Inspirational Message on “Leadership Challenges in the Asean Economic Community.”

I am confident that the discussions in this Conference will further enrich the ongoing conversations on the AEC 2015 and hopefully nurture the spirit of innovation that I know resides in every Filipino enterprise. –Junie del Mundo, Philippine Daily Inquirer

To reserve your seats for the Sept. 10 MAP International CEO Conference 2013, please visit or send an email via and or call the MAP Secretariat at (632) 7511149 to 51.

(The author is the Chair of the MAP Asean Integration Committee and the MAP CEO Conference Committee. He is the Chair and CEO of EON The Stakeholder Relations Firm, regarded as the pioneering stakeholder relations firm that puts TRUST at the heart of its collaborations and dialogues with different stakeholders of its clients. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph and junie@eon.com.ph. For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph).