Experts say even the ASEAN integration should take the route of inclusive growth, or else it will do more damage than good

MANILA, Philippines – Unless the ASEAN economic integration takes the road of inclusive growth, the vulnerable sectors of society will be left behind.

“Big businesses will swallow up MSMEs [Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises], so kaya po dito sa ASEAN, all ASEAN organs… are encouraged to look at the value chain kung paano po matutulungan itong mga vulnerable sectors of society,” Luis Cruz, assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of ASEAN Affairs said on Tuesday, March 17.

(Big businesses will swallow up MSMEs, so in ASEAN, all ASEAN organs are encouraged to look at the value chain and see how they can help the vulnerable sectors of society.)

Cruz was speaking at the 33rd anniversary of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), where health experts discussed the challenges and opportunities for health research and innovation in view of the upcoming ASEAN economic integration.

By the end of 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community will be established, marking the start of free trade among the organization’s 10 member-states allowing free flow of goods and services – health services included. (READ: A united region: The ASEAN Community 2015)

Cruz urged member-countries to focus on the “losers” by providing them assistance in the following: provision of microfinance, research and development, packaging, global marketing, and training.

This is true even in the health sector. (READ: PH ‘well situated’ to take advantage of ASEAN integration)

“Iyon pong mga malalaking pharmaceutical industries, they know how to move about in ASEAN, ngunit itong magiging losers, ito po ang dapat bigyan ng assistance (The big pharmaceutical industries, they know how to move about in ASEAN, but those who will be losers should be given assistance),” he said.

But Edelina Dela Paz of the Health Action Information Framework said as long as the integration is focused on economic growth, there will really be losers along the way.

“We have to look at the comprehensive overall context of social, economic, political development, and it has to be addressed per country… Trade should not take precedence over health. Trade policy should consider what the impact on health is,” she added.

The following, according to Cruz, will challenge health research and innovation in the Philippines during the ASEAN integration:

  • Prevalent existence of tropical infectious diseases (malaria and dengue)
  • Challenges on MDGs (child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS)
  • Knowledge and development gaps among ASEAN member states (human capital, innovation capacity, infrastructure, economic growth)
  • Political-security conflicts
  • Lack of effective regional cooperation and collaboration
  • Investment on research and development

– Rappler.com