AS we see again and again, targets and goals are one thing; strategies to achieving them are definitely another. Given the fact that Asean Economic Community’s (AEC) policy-making is pragmatic and cautious, taking cultural and political differences into consideration, it is important that efforts to strengthen the regional architecture of the AEC are also taken into consideration. The regional architecture will have to be based on specific initiatives and objectives that make markets work better and deliver clear incentives for the member-states and its citizens. Measures with a clear payoff are likely to garner most support, involving areas such as expansion of trade, more productive investments, a focus on inclusive growth and a clear undertaking to increase the per-capita income.

Institutions for regional integration should be lean and carefully structured to achieve results. Formulating a proper strategy to strengthen the economic integration requires political will, leadership, financial resources and a good interaction between business leaders and government officials. It is essential that both governments and the private sector see themselves as part of the solution, work together, understanding that only jointly the benefits of the Asean integration can be harvested.

With the AEC rapidly approaching, we are witnessing a growing commitment from the region’s leaders; we are seeing almost daily AEC forums in all parts of the Philippines to convince all stakeholders that the challenges of economic integration have to be met and converted into opportunities to develop strategies to take advantage of a 600-million-people market. In recent weeks, I have outlined key recommendations covering the following sectors:

  • Food and beverage
  • Health care
  • Transport and connectivity
  • Financial services
  • Information and communication technology
  • Automotive

Infrastructure from seaports to airports to rail
The road maps that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is developing jointly with the private sector are another way to prepare. The challenge remains: Dreams have to be converted into realities. It is time that the road maps the DTI is working on are finally implemented; we are happy that Malacañang has finally approved the Automotive Roadmap with the required incentives. This step is very important: We have to realize that all industrialized countries have a car-manufacturing industry; automotive production requires a wide selection of support industries. With AEC kicking in at the end of the year, it is trusted that the implementation of the car-manufacturing program, designed to support new players for six years, starts immediately.

Within the European Union-Asean business perspective, we are happy that the European Parliament/European Commission are funding a project in most Asean countries to bring European small and medium enterprises (SMEs) closer to Asean SMEs. More specifically, the goal is to identify business opportunities per Asean country and for the Asean region, make these opportunities visible in the 28 EU member-states and then assist the European SMEs into the Asean markets of their choice. Part of the project is also to create a level playing field for these European SMEs, to remove technical and other barriers to trade and investment and to foster B2B cooperation with Asean SMEs.

In the Philippines, we have launched the EU-Philippines Business Network (EPBN) that will implement the project. Involved are all European business organizations in the Philippines. The objective is to match European and Philippine SMEs in partnerships that will allow stronger market positions in this country and, at the same time, provide the basis to successfully benefit from the market opportunities the AEC offers. EPBN has entered into a partnership with Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry to make the program work for European and Philippine SMEs.

All of these efforts have a purpose: to work toward the vision of an AEC. In the end, it is about building a more integrated Asean region, free from poverty and conflict, prosperous and confident, and well-equipped to shape its destiny. –Henry J. Schumacher, Businesmirror