2017 May 09
May 9, 2017

What is truly ASEAN?

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It’s not easy to discuss what ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is to regular people. It’s even more difficult to discuss ASEAN with consumers and farmers. So it has been our mission to try and explain what ASEAN means to the consumer, the importer, the exporter and then the farmer.
What bothers us also bothers the Indonesian and the Thai farmer. The other member states (as they are called) produce the same things, have the same crops, and probably have the same situation when it comes to producing goods. Take the Thai farmer or the Vietnamese farmer. They can both grow rice. Who has the better yield?

s it just about scale? They both can grow coffee, too. Yields are different with Vietnam producing 5,000 kilos/hectare while we produce 700 kilos/hectare. And Myanmar who also in the running produces a total of maybe 8,000 MT while we now produce 30,000 MT (an improvement from 22,000 some years ago).

Then there is Indonesia who is number 4 or 5 as top coffee producer. I met an Indo lady, Helianti Hilman from Jakarta, who exports rice, coconut sugar, coffee, honey and even roselle and blue pea flower tea leaves. We produce exactly all of those products, too. So we shared stories about our farmers and how we can improve their lives. Helianti used to be an entertainment lawyer until some farmers asked her for help to sell their organic rice and coffee. But guess what? Indonesians were not ready for organic products when she started her business. So off to Europe she went and sold to the Swedes and to other first world countries — all organic, all natural products like rice and coconut jam, sugar and coffee.

Instead of wanting to compete with each other, we spoke about cooperation. She can sell for me in Indonesia and I can sell for her in the Philippines. She need not go far to sell if we collaborate. And that is how ASEAN cooperation should be.

Another collaboration is Barong Batik, my now favorite Asean wearable — Philippine Jusi (banana fiber) that is brought to Indonesia and is made into a Batik cloth now called Barong Batik. It feels and looks like a barong material (because it is) but has Batik influence. The innovative entrepreneur is a Filipina, Thelma Victorio, who has been living in Jakarta for many years now. She and her designer business partner come up with different batik patterns but all done with the fineness of Philippine Jusi. She sells blouses and shirts for women and men, respectively.

And the other example is the Great Women Brand. Great Women is an advocacy-driven platform that empowers women up the value chain by introducing innovations in design, packaging, and even in combinations of fabric and textiles for clothes, accessories and high-end fashion. This is done with two or three ASEAN member states, and the idea is to come up with new designs that any ASEAN citizen can relate to. Though designs are initially for women, surely there will be a men’s line soon probably carrying the title “The Men of Great Women” and who would not want to be called that? The brand was launched in Malaysia in 2015, brought to Bangkok in 2016 and will soon be in Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia. This can cover textiles as well as giftware, accessories and even food items.

This is what ASEAN integration is about. The consumer will understand the cooperation if we talked less about policy and more about friendly business tie-ups.

Big business will surely talk about buying in, buying out, or franchising known brands around the region. Multinationals will buy up regional brands and may become global icons soon.

So what does ASEAN mean to the ordinary Joe or Jane?

*It means recognizing that we are not the only ones who can produce tropical fruits, rice, sugar, and coffee.

All the countries in ASEAN, except Singapore and Brunei, produce the same crops due to the same climate. This means, if we cannot be better, we can be different. OR we can come together and make a better product.

*It means not giving up but giving in to partnerships and collaborations. The old adage says “If you cant beat them, join them. That is exactly how everyone in ASEAN must feel and think. Partnerships are key.

*It means knowing our strengths and selling it. We’re better marketers and innovators? Then that’s what we bring to the table. We can improve production but that takes a lot of support from the state and deeper pockets of private sector.

*Let’s sell together. If I am short on coffee or coconut sugar, someone in Indonesia may help me fulfill an order. And vice versa. Not to compete. But to join forces to sell to the rest of the world.

Thailand wants to partner with us for e-commerce. Myanmar wants to get a franchise. Cambodia wants to collaborate for a common brand strategy. And that is how integration can be good for all of us. This August 29-31, 2017 the ASEAN Women Entrepreneur Network (AWEN) will have an ASEAN Women Business Conference to discuss these collaborations and partnerships. And see what policies the economic managers can discuss and agree on — to make the MSMEs also part of this milestone.

It’s not just women who will benefit from this. The men will surely be part of the discussions and will be the champions of women empowerment through trade.

So think about how ASEAN can benefit your own business rather than be scared about the competition it brings. Welcome to ASEAN. By Pacita Juan.

Source: http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=what-is-truly-asean&id=144856
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASEAN Trade Union Council.