30 December 2014

Central Luzon ‘well-poised’ for Asean economic integration

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- Central Luzon is in a strong position to partake in the economic integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) next year, an official of the Regional Development Council (RDC-3) in Central Luzon assured, citing vigorous economic progress and positive image in the international community.

“What does it mean for us here in Central Luzon? First of all this is not an option for us because we are all involved here and all of us are stakeholders and are bound to feel the impacts of the integration,” RDC-3 chairman and Bulacan Governor Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado clarified during the RDC-3 Forum on the Asean Economic Community (AEC) held recently at the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda-3) Central Luzon Office, Diosdado Macapagal Government Center, this city.

Alvarado revealed that the RDC-3, in particular, was tasked to determine the opportunities and challenges of establishing relevant programs, which will highlight the strengths of the Central Luzon within the context of the impending Asean economic integration.

“By December next year, the Asean Economic Community or AEC will take full effect, although this is not something new because we know that the initiative for integration was signed way back in 2000 during the Asean 2000 Summit,” he said.

The forum, which concurrently served as the 14th Session of the RDC-3, was participated in by key government and private stakeholders, including lawyer Jonas Leones, Undersecretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); Brenda Joyce Mendoza, Director, Neda Trade and Services and Industry Staff; Alberto Lina, Chairman, Lina Group of Companies; Severino Santos, Director, Neda-3; and other local officials of Central Luzon.

"The forum on Asean Economic Community of the RDC-3 aims to increase the level of awareness of RDC3 members and other stakeholders on AEC, particularly its implications to national and regional economy," said Santos.

Leones stressed the competitive edge of Central Luzon in the Asean economic integration in terms of its strategic location, covering both the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and the Clark Freeport Zone, which has its own international airport.

“Central Luzon has been identified as the new ‘epicenter’ of big investments because of the massive influx of opportunities here, especially in the Subic and Clark. It certainly has a high potential to perform well on the Asean economic integration next year,” Leones said.

Mendoza shared that the AEC offers massive business opportunities that both the public and the private sector must exploit to copiously benefit from its advantages.

"The asean Economic Community is something not to be feared about. AEC can be explored and taken advantage of," urged Mendoza.

Challenges ahead

Central Luzon may be a robust economic player in the international stage, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, but Alvarado said the government still has a long way to go in terms of creating development strategies that will ensure its readiness for AEC implementation.

“Most of us who have been with the RDC can attest that for many years now we have been working towards the realization of some very important critical infrastructures for Central Luzon such as the Clark International Airport, coastal highway that will link Sangley Point in Cavite to the Bataan Special Economic Zone, North Rail or mass transport system linking Metro Manila to the Clark International Airport and the Balog-balog dam to name a few,” cited Alvarado.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), according to Alvarado, are also expected to significantly gain from the trade and investment opportunities of this new arrangement but there are still some key economic issues that needs to be addressed.

“For example, on the target of eliminating or having zero tariff rates—as early as January 2010, more than 99 percent of tariff lines between ASEAN six member countries have been brought down to zero in line with the goals of ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA,” he said adding that ASEAN must work on further eliminating trade barriers and undertaking agreements with important economic powers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Competitive advantages

Mendoza, nevertheless, mentioned that the country is already "well-poised" to compete with its neighbors in the Southeast Asian region.

"The Philippines has been gaining the confidence of international community as evidenced by the credit rating upgrades given by debt-watchers Moody's Investor Service and Fitch Ratings. This means that we are in a great position in terms of the economy," she said.

The growth from 2010 to 2013, according to Neda, recorded the highest four-year average growth since 1979 and this will ascertain that the Philippines will gain from the AEC.

Meanwhile, Alvarado supported this statement, citing the presence of many Filipinos abroad.

“Our network of Overseas Filipinos stands out as a distinct advantage over Asean counterparts because relatively, most of the Philippines’ work force is proficient in English. Another advantage is that we have the high average growth or Gross Domestic Product in the current decade,” he said.

The Asean integration puts in motion the materialization of the AEC, which envision Southeast Asia as "a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region, a region of equitable economic development, and a region fully integrated into the global economy."

The Asean is a 10-nation regional bloc that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (Ferth Vandensteen Manaysay, Sun Star Pampanga)