Dear colleagues, we started this year with high hopes, and we are now concluding it on a high note. ASEAN has made tremendous progress and has had such a meaningful year this 2017. This was made possible with the dedication of our economic trade officials, who worked virtually non-stop to help us achieve our targets, and with the solid support and cooperation from our partners from the ASEAN Member States (AMS).

I recall 10 months ago, when the Philippines officially launched its Chairmanship of ASEAN bearing the banner theme: “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.” Under this theme, our chairmanship had 6 thematic priorities, one of which was “Inclusive, Innovation-Led Growth” for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). This thematic priority affirms trade and integration as a powerful engine of economic growth and development for the AEC. In this regard, ASEAN has achieved a measure of success as we continue to link economies and pursue integration and cooperation with strategic external partners.

The establishment of the AEC in 2015 has engendered enormous opportunities in the form of a huge market worth US$2.5T. Vibrant flow of goods, services, investments, and skilled labor are among the benefits of this economic integration. Moreover, the ASEAN Vision and AEC Blueprint 2025 demonstrate that the region is making good progress in formulating a clear way on how to collectively address the opportunities that AEC present.

Nonetheless, we acknowledge that despite our efforts, the issue of development remains a pressing concern with inequity and inclusiveness remaining the biggest challenges within our economies and across the region. Without full participation in trade, growth cannot be truly inclusive and further progress in trade liberalization would be difficult if the benefits are not shared by all.

The theme “Inclusive, Innovation-led Growth” acknowledges the socio-economic dimension of regional economic integration and its contribution to poverty alleviation. This priority urges us to strengthen our commitment for more inclusive participation in the process of community-building, where we all are partners and everyone contributes. This will likewise ensure that the gains presented by economic integration are fully realized and shared by everyone in the region.

I remember our President Duterte also highlighting this point at the recently-concluded APEC wherein for us, the leaders, the way globalization should work is that everyone should emerge as winners, and that globalization should not produce winners and losers but everyone as winners.

This year, we also put greater focus on reinforcing our Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) by providing an enabling environment for its development and to enable them to scale up and participate in the global value chain. Given the breadth and extent of the MSME sector in the region, its development would directly contribute to spreading the economic benefits more widely.

Micro SMEs must be full participants and beneficiaries that closer regional economic integration brings. This means further strengthening the role and contributions of micro SMEs so as to attain a dynamic, inclusive, and people-oriented AEC.

We pursued this theme through 3 strategic measures, namely: increasing trade and investment; integrating micro SMEs in the global value chains; and developing an innovation-driven economy. These measures, in turn, were supported by 11 priority economic deliverables related to trade facilitation, trade in services, connectivity, inclusive business, e-commerce, and innovation. These deliverables would ensure the participation of the micro SME sector, as well as the marginalized—like the women and youth—in commercial activities.

With this mind, we are convening today to exchange views on what we’ve done so far in moving the AEC forward. For 2017, we have made good progress in getting AEC 2025 off the ground. After the adoption of the AEC Blueprint 2025, we concentrated our efforts on the development of the Consolidated Strategic Action Plan (CSAP) that serves as the operational framework for the AEC Blueprint 2025. We adopted the CSAP earlier this year and completed additional action plans that are relevant to further increasing intra-regional trade, like trade facilitation and e-commerce.

We take this opportunity as well to prepare and firm up our deliverables and report to our Leaders who are set to meet few days from now. These include notable developments in our external economic relations like the completion of the negotiations for the ASEAN-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Agreement (or AHKFTA) and the Investment Agreement (AHKIA).

There is also the endorsement of the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the Feasibility Study for an ASEAN-Canada FTA Agreement and the subsequent undertaking of the study. Further, there is the convening of the Joint Working Group that is tasked to assess the possibilities for the resumption of the ASEAN-EU FTA negotiations. Lastly, the level of engagement that we had on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (or RCEP) this year is unprecedented, demonstrating and galvanizing ASEAN’s leadership in the negotiations process.

Ladies and gentlemen, ASEAN continues to progress year after year through our concerted efforts. The challenge of sustaining this and ensuring that we reach the kind of community that our forefathers envisioned us to become—a community that is secure, inclusive, prosperous, and stable—requires us to work even more closely.

My term as AEM Chairman comes to an end. Allow me to express my deep gratitude to everyone for your support and hard work to ensure that our Chairmanship, which coincides with the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, is a success. I would also like to congratulate our fellow economic trade officials for a job well done.

Again, thank you very much and I wish a productive discussion ahead of us.

Mabuhay tayong lahat!