MANILA, Philippines – Economic inclusivity is not just a pretty slogan. It could be vital for ASEAN’s future as a regional bloc and avoidng a Brexit style collapse, according to ASEAN Business Advisory Council Chairman Joey Concepion III.
Concepion pointed to the rising tide of populism sweeping the globe and its effects as a poignant warning for Southeast Asia’s own grouping of nations.
“ASEAN is inclusive not exclusive, it is isn’t just for the benefit of the large firms out there or the [economically successful] countries among the 10 nations. It is to benefit all 10 nations and every person within them. Its all about large businesses embracing small,” the chairman said on day 2 of the 2017 ASEAN SUMMIT.
“In the end, as we are seeing around the world, the moment prosperity for all is not achieved we see countries pulling away from their grouping as we saw in Europe and other parts of the world and we don’t want that happening to ASEAN,’ he added.
The most effective way of doing this, he said, was to deepen the economic ties between small entrepreneurs and the region’s medium and large firms. One way this could be done is by incorporating small entrepreneurs, particularly famers, in the supply chains of the big firms.
Once involved in the supply chain, these small entrepreneurs will also be mentored and be able to up the quality of their produce.
The big challenge, Concepion said, is finding the proper balance between getting as many small entrepreneurs as possible on board without a firm sacrificing competiveness, at least initially.
A balance also has be struck between the concerns of firms and industries with the wider population especially as ASEAN integration means the removal of trade barriers and tariffs.
“We have to look at the greater good. Of course one can argue that because of ASEAN, prices of products have to be competitive so that all consumers benefit… We have to look at that balance,” Concepcion said
The case of rice
This is particularly relevant in the Philippines where the production of the food staple rice is under the spotlight as quantitative restrictions on rice imports are being removed as part of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
The restrictions, in effect, shield Filipino rice farmers from competition by limiting the amount of rice that can be imported into the country annually.
“The transformation of rice farmers to move into other crops is a challenge. Most of our MSMEs belong (to the) agricultural sector and if you look at it that is where rural poverty really is. There must be a roadmap and by and large, the Philippine roadmap towards this area of rice is to move into hybrid rice,” Concepion said.
While the restrictions are set to expire in 2017, the full implementation of opening up the sector will of will take one to two ears according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).
In the meantime, programs are in place to help farmer’s access credit to modernize their equipment and produce hybrid rice as well as to provide farmers with free irrigation, Concepion noted.
The chairman also pointed that “those farmers who have shifted to hybrid rice have upped their productivity by between 6-8 metric tons per hectare, which is comparable to ASEAN neighbors.”
“I think they will be able to strike a balance here by complying with what was agreed amongst ASEAN members and allowing farmers the chance to be successful in shifting to hybrid rice. This is what we would really like to learn from our ASEAN neighbors” he added.
Yearlong focus on inclusivity
One big opportunity to learn that is at the GO Negosyo Prosperity for All forum, to be held as part of the ASEAN Summit on April 28. The forum will include the prime ministers of Thailand and Malaysia, as well as former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Vice Preesident Leni Robredo.
“Its clear what that Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have achieved in reducing poverty And we can to take inspiration from that,” Concepion said.
The forum will also kick-off a series of events to focus on economic inclusivity that will run the entire year.
The country will host the ASEAN Agriculture Summit in October and the ASEAN Business and Investment forum in November.
The Business Advisory Council will also launch the ASEAN mentoring and entrepreneurship network or AMEN in November.
AMEN will be composed of volunteers mentors from each ASEAN nation, experts in fields like that can be pooled together to share their expertise in various fields such as agriculture, logistics, and tech. – Rappler.com
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