More trade and economic opportunities are expected to abound with the opening of a new trade route linking Mindanao and Sulawesi through the ASEAN Roll-on Roll-off (RORO) Project, which the Philippines and Indonesia will formally launch on 30 April, following the conclusion of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila. RORO is form of an interstate maritime network aimed at providing easy access to key markets thru lower transport costs. The maiden voyage will commence from Kudos Port in Sasa, Davao City passing the General Santos International Port and the final port of destination in Bitung, Manado, Indonesia.

A Philippine initiative, the ASEAN RORO takes off from the success of the comprehensive RORO policy of the country in 2003.

“The ASEAN RORO, particularly the Davao-GenSan-Bitung trade corridor, is a legacy project of the Philippines and one of its the major deliverables for this year’s ASEAN chairmanship and in commemoration of ASEAN’s golden anniversary,” said Trade Assistant Secretary Arturo Boncato, who also serves as Philippine Senior Official to Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo will lead the event, which will take place in Davao. They will be joined by other key officials from the governments of both sides and stakeholders from the private sector.

“The President has a toll order to bring development in the South, and once emphasized the need to put particular attention to sub-regional mechanisms, especially the BIMP-EAGA given its crucial role in pursuing development initiatives at the grassroots,” said Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who is also the current chair of ASEAN Economic Ministers. The connectivity would make Davao-GenSan-Bitung as the transshipment point to the EAGA set to benefit Filipino producers, especially Mindanao and Palawan as they grow their businesses and link their markets in Bitung and the rest of Indonesia.

The promise of expanding trade and business convergence is ensured with this RORO scheme. It is seen that the new trade route is cost and time efficient which would take maximum of eight days of shipping time in contrast with the usual Manila to Bitung route which would take about five weeks.

Consequently, this route will provide greater access for local businessmen, especially the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), to engage in international trade, as well as stimulate other areas of development such as joint tourism promotion, establishment of direct air linkages and increase in investment flows, among others. The products to be traded from Mindanao include food, beverages, garments, and electronics. Among the companies that will partake in the actual launching of goods to Bitung is the Pilmico Foods Corporation, a subsidiary of Aboitiz Equity Ventures which will ship flour, and is processing shipment of animal feeds for succeeding runs.

“The launching of this shipping link is only the beginning, and we expect more jobs will be generated in both Mindanao and Sulawesi with the invigoration of trade and influx of investments. We hope that this initiative will be replicated not only in the BIMP-EAGA but in the whole of the ASEAN region if we are to truly attain a more integrated, inclusive and sustainable development for the people,” Sec. Lopez added.