The ASEAN economic integration is happening now, not in 2016, and the local business community, especially the small business sector, in tandem with government and other business support organizations, had better do something fast, if they had not done so yet.
This is the gist of the messages delivered by economists, business leaders, government executives and other resource speakers on Day 1 of the two-day National Symposium and Workshop on ASEAN economic integration yesterday, April 10, at the U.P. Institute for Small-Scale Industries (UP ISSI).
The symposium is organized by the UP ISSI in cooperation with the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (SERDEF) and Quality Partners Ltd. (QPL).
That integration is already taking place was emphasized during the forum.
“No drastic changes will happen on January 1, 2016,” said Cielito Habito, well-known economist and former NEDA director general. “It is a not a day a reckoning but a reference date for 100 per cent compliance to the provisions of the AEC program.”
In fact, he said, 99 per cent of all tariff lines were already brought down to zero since 2010 and the blueprint commitments are largely complied with, with compliance rates ranging between 84 to 89 per cent.
The speakers agreed concerted action need to be done to cope with the changes — the opportunities and the challenges, particularly the need to be more competitive — that integration entails.
Mr. Habito asserted that unbalanced gains from the integration are expected. “Some will gain more, and some may be hurt — both across and within member economies. ” Over all however, AEC poses more challenges even as it gives more opportunities for less developed members.
“Big businesses are better positioned that SMEs to reap the gains,” he added.
Thus, SMEs require deliberate support and assistance.
What government is doing to help small businesses cope in a market without barriers was discussed by Trade and Industry Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya, DTI Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development (BSMED) director Jerry Clavesillas, and DOST Undersecretary Fortunato de la Pena.
USEC Zenaida Maglaya (in a paper read by ASEC Blesilda Lantayona), cited the department’s major contribution to the effort, a cluster-based industrialization program which seeks to harmonize and integrate government efforts to mobilize priority sectors. She also mentioned the DTI Shared Service Facilities Project which provides access to better technology and more sophisticated equipment to mSMEs.
Director Jerry Clavesillas discussed the DTI’s ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for SME Development for 2010-2015, which has laid out policy measures to address access to finance, facilitation, technology development, promotion and human resource development considered crucial to the growth of the small business sector.
USEC Fortunato T. de la Pena presented a comparative study of science and technology priorities in various countries of the ASEAN. For the Philippines, these priorities include productivity-raising tools for agriculture, innovative and appropriate technologies for mSMEs to develop competitive products, and state-of-the-art facilities and capabilities for local industries to move up the value chain and attain global competitiveness.
More policy reforms are needed to help small businesses in a holistic way, averred Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino. He described mSME development as a continuum that needs support at every stage from the government and private sectors. Noting the gap in the current support programs, he has the Go Negosyo bill in the Senate, which pays attention to aspects previously unaddressed.
Private sector initiatives were discussed by Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Alfredo M. Yao who underscored the importance of strengthening the manufacturing industry. “Only through a robust manufacturing industry can we expand the asset base of the economy and address the unemployment deficit hounding the economy.”
He cited the PCCI’ s “Proudly-Phlippine Made” advocacy and movement, through which “we will help our industries and future entrepreneurs to develop a competitiveness mind set, a blazing drive for excellence and the willingness to pursue quality production.”
Another PCCI program addressed to the challenge of integration is the spearheading of business matching and market linkages activities in the region, a project of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council.
The second day of the symposium would be devoted to action planning workshops participated in by entrepreneurs and other stakeholders.
Photos: From the UP ISSI Facebook page