By Austin Ong
Quezon City, Philippines: Key business group leaders, scholars and the media gathered to discuss the economic significance of the AIIB, TPP, AEC, and the New Silk Road on the Philippines at a media forum organized by the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Pandesal Forum, Philippine-Asia Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) last November 11, 2015 at the Kamuning Bakery.
The forum’s objective was to provide a platform to discuss the Philippine’s position in the current trade grouping issues—namely, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIIB), the USA-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and the New Silk Road Initiative funded by China. The panelists included Ambassador Donald Dee of PCCI; Mr. Henry Lim Bon Liong, Chairman and CEO of the Sterling Paper Group of Companies and SL Agritech Corporation; Professor Benito Lim of the Ateneo de Manila University, and Atty. Jemy Gatdula of University of Asia and the Pacific and a columnist at the BusinessWorld. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Wilson Lee Flores of the Philippine Star (who also happens to be the owner of Kamuning Bakery). Reactors included Professor Bobby Tuazon of the CenPEG and businessman Mr. George Siy of the Anvil Business Club.
The discussion aimed to clarifying some misconceptions surrounding these trade programs which inevitably would have a significant impact on the country and her people. More importantly, the group tackled the central question: how would the Philippines benefit from all these economic programs? The participants shared the business and private sector concerns on the matter.
According to Ambassador Dee, the Philippines is entering its demographic ‘sweet spot’—defined as the period where optimal number of the country’s population would be in the working age and have few dependents—and fully exploiting this ‘demographic window’ will be highly dependent on these economic trade programs, which will inevitably transform the global landscape whether the Philippines is prepared or not.
Atty. Gatdula pointed out that the Philippines has not taken full advantage of its free trade agreements (FTAs) and the government is over-burdened with the high cost of doing business.
The champion of hybrid rice, Mr. Lim Bon Liong, supported this with numbers from the agricultural sector: the numbers he shared tellingly showed that the Philippines is not lacking in resources: a government provided safety-net and a national agricultural policy may easily propel the country not only to rice self-sufficiency but to compete in an open market. He continued ominously however, without the vital government support, the Filipino farmers might soon be in jeopardy with the deluge of cheaper rice that are set to enter post-AEC.
There is also a serious need to study the details of the accompanying proposals and focus on how the Philippines will be affected in the long term, according to Professor Benito Lim. He added, the focus of the study should be on how these economic programs can benefit the Philippines. In addition, the discussion touched upon unfulfilled promises of liberalization and free trade on the Philippines. Professor Tuazon shared for instance how the poverty incident rate in the Philippines has grown even amidst regional integrations such as the development of ASEAN and, because of this, we need to identify the root causes and study how improvements may be had with the proposed programs.
Mr. Siy, one of the host of the forum, said, “We are hoping through such forums, we can examine global economic developments more objectively and identify how the Philippines can best position itself to take advantage of the milieu of choices facing it.”
The event hopes to encourage more discussion in the public.
(Reported by Austin Ong. firstname.lastname@example.org)