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Philippine firms see opportunities in Asean integration

Challenges also present, region’s business leaders say


Philippine corporations are seeing growth opportunities from the full integration of regional markets by 2015 as targeted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Nations.

At the Asean 100 Forum on Thursday, regional participants recognized the need to deepen and broaden Asean economic integration to become more competitive in a globalizing economy.

“We’re already working toward that. The way we approach our food and airline business is from a regional perspective,” said Lance Gokongwei, president of conglomerate JG Summit Holdings, which is one of the few local companies with a regional expansion thrust.

“But the areas for growth will be in increasing linkages between the Philippines and our Asean neighbors and eventually the Asean trading block will also hook up with China, Japan and Korea. So the the only way the Philippines or individual countries (in Asean) for that matter can really compete is to have to look at ourselves as a single block or else China and India will just overwhelm each of us,” Gokongwei told reporters on the sidelines of the forum.

For its part, the Lopez group is looking at exporting its expertise in geothermal power generation to other neighboring countries, likewise harnessing geothermal resources particularly in Indonesia.

“A lot of the (geothermal power) concessions have been awarded so we have to work with existing players who are already there,” said Francis Giles Puno, chief finance officer of First Gen Corp. which in turn controls local geothermal power crown jewel, Energy Development Corp.

Ayala Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala (Jaza) said each country in Asean could feed from each other in different ways, noting that collaboration would still be the way to boost strength as opposed to individualism.

But to strengthen the foundation for integration, Zobel said that it is not just the structural framework that Asean must work on but also sharing the “soft” side of it such as in the areas of sports, arts and education.

One obstacle, Zobel said, is the level of awareness of the regional integration process. By creating a series of cooperation areas and raising standards as a community, he said the integration could happen.  And to make it sustainable, he said issues on security and governance issues would have to be addressed.

The Asean 100 Leadership Forum, now in its eighth year, brought together leaders from business, government and civil society with this year’s theme: “One Asean: How Close Are We?”

Apart from allowing free trade within the region by lowering tariffs further, the proposed Asean Economic Community is expected to address many residual nontariff barriers such as by clarifying rules on origin and creating unified customs processes within the region.

Dato Timothy Ong, a businessman from Brunei who convened this forum, said there were some “low hanging fruits” that Asean countries can take advantage of even without having to wait for each individual nations to form a strong state.

For instance, Ong noted that a lot of the constraints to doing business in the World Bank’s annual competitiveness survey were not too difficult to address.

For instance, he said addressing issues like shortening the days of processing business registration would make a difference.

Ong believes that the 2015 target to put up an Asean economic community could be partially achieved.

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Tags: ASEAN , Asean integration , Business , Philippines

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