OPINION: Pulling Asean together

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Cielito F. Habito wrote: As Asean’s leaders converge in Manila this week on its 50th year, one hopes that a strong collaborative spirit leads them to effect tangible further improvement in the lives of the people of Asean in the next 50 years.

Working together and moving as one spell the essence of the Asean Community, defined under economic, sociocultural and political-security pillars, and each pillar with its own blueprint for action. Their avowed aim is closer regional integration. The first step leading to this is effective collaboration.

The challenge of collaboration along several dimensions may well be the most formidable challenge standing in the way of achieving the vision of an Asean Community. Collaboration across government entities is a particularly tough challenge. Government institutions and the people staffing them have a propensity to organize themselves in silos, both within and among ministries and agencies. Collaboration among business entities is also a key element for tapping the benefits of economic integration. The challenge of collaboration among the three major stakeholder groups of society—government, business and civil society — is also a difficult one. Trust, or lack of it, often gets in the way of such collaboration, as there is often a wall of mistrust, even antagonism, between government and private business, between government and civil society, and between business and civil society. Across national boundaries, strong nationalistic sentiments often hamper effective cooperation and collaboration, especially where certain cross-border collaboration arrangements are feared to compromise
national sovereignty.

In the Philippines, the interagency Committee for Asean Economic Community (CAEC), chaired by the Department of Trade and Industry, provides the forum for proper coordination and collaboration across relevant government agencies on AEC matters. This is important especially because various policies, measures and activities often have far-reaching implications well beyond the specific sectors or concerns they directly represent, and thus require coordinated action from multiple departments or agencies.

Apart from CAEC, a particularly important collaboration imperative arising out of the AEC 2015 and 2025 Blueprints, as well as from other trade agreements, is the need for a national coordinative mechanism on matters of trade facilitation. After achievement of trade liberalization over the last 25 years, the focus has shifted to trade facilitation, which involves dozens of government regulatory agencies imposing numerous trade permits, licenses and clearances on various traded products. We need a forum for orchestrating these various regulations, to address frequent duplication and overlaps, and to streamline processes toward reducing the cost of doing business.

The Asean Business Advisory Council provides a venue within each member-country and at the regional level for collaboration among business stakeholders, and with the government. The growing prominence of regional value chains and production networks exemplifies the close collaboration that has transpired within the business sector across the region. Collaboration with and within civil society happens through the Asean Civil Society Conference and the Asean People’s Forum, a network of Southeast Asian civil society organizations and social movements that engages the Asean processes to address issues and concerns ranging from human rights to trade. Domestically, DTI’s One Country, One Voice platform promotes dialogue between the government and nongovernment sectors, especially civil society, aimed at achieving consensus on the country’s engagement in the AEC, and in other similar international forums.

Collaboration among member-states happens within the respective intergovernmental mechanisms under Asean, at the levels of technical working groups, senior officials, ministers, and government/state leaders. Here, the governments must provide the enabling environment for even stronger collaboration, and for physical and people-to-people connectivity that are essential to building and strengthening the Asean Community. As Asean’s leaders converge in Manila this week on its 50th year, one hopes that a strong collaborative spirit leads them to effect tangible further improvement in the lives of the people of Asean in the next 50 years.


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