The 31st High-Level Task Force on ASEAN Economic Integration (HLTF-EI) convened on February 15-16 in Manila, gathering high-ranking ASEAN trade officials to discuss the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025.

HLTF-EI Chairperson and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Brunei Darussalam Dato Lim Jock Hoi said that ASEAN needs to remain strong and united as the region navigates and charts its course ahead “collectively as ASEAN.”

Representing the Philippines, Undersecretary for Industry Development and Managing Head of the Board of Investment Ceferino Rodolfo laid down the Philippine priority deliverables for 2017, highlighting the country’s agenda on inclusiveness and innovation with a focus on increasing trade and investments, integrating micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the digital economy, and developing an innovation-driven economy.

“Inclusiveness should be intrinsic to the ASEAN agenda. The AEC Blueprint 2025 development framework will be most effective if it results from inclusive and open multi-stakeholder participation, one that is informed by the perspectives of people, especially the marginalized,” Undersecretary Rodolfo said.  

The Philippines is taking the lead in seeking new policy interventions that are practical from the MSME perspective. These are expected to contribute towards helping MSMEs harness the opportunities presented by open and increasingly integrated markets. These initiatives range from free trade and trade facilitation, trade in services, investment, connectivity, and innovation:

  • Maximizing the benefits of free trade agreements (Self-Certification for MSMEs, and Substantial Conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP]);
  • Fostering a more facilitative and transparent trade in services regime and harnessing the contribution and global competitiveness of the ASEAN services sector (Conclusion of the ASEAN Trade in Services Agreement);
  • Strengthening the investment linkages between MSMEs and Multinational Enterprises or MNEs (FAST Action Agenda on Investment, Inclusive Business, Women and Youth Entrepreneurship);
  • Enhancing intra-regional connectivity and bolstering socio-economic growth in the regions (Launch of the Davao-General Santos-Bitung route of the ASEAN Roll-on Roll-of Network);
  • Supporting an ecosystem of entrepreneurship based on technology and innovation (ASEAN Declaration on Innovation); and
  • Introducing more systematic and robust method for AEC compliance monitoring (ASEAN Trade Facilitation Indicators, Review Mechanism for AEC). 

Said priorities are in line with the Duterte Administration’s 10-point socio-economic agenda. In particular, these will leverage the global competitiveness of the Philippines’ services sector in order to generate jobs and growth, as well as bring development to the South through rural and value chain development.

The Philippines also delivered to HLTF-EI the collective statement of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) Philippines National Organizing Committee, reflecting the people’s aspirations for an ASEAN that asserts peace and security, human rights, democratization, and broad-based economic, social and ecological justice.

Undersecretary Rodolfo highlighted the potential of civil society organizations as strategic and responsible partners in the process of ASEAN community-building, given their knowledge and reach at the grassroots level and cohesive international network.

Recommendations of the 31st LTF-EI will be the focus of discussions at the 23rd ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Retreat and Related Meetings to be held on March 8-10 in Manila.

Composed of Trade Vice Ministers from the ten ASEAN Member States (AMS), the HLTF-EI functions as an advisory body to the economic ministers of the AMS, ensuring that all 10 AMS are on-track and on-time with the plans and programs intended to realize regional economic integration and achieve the vision of an AEC.

The AEC Blueprint was crafted to further advance ASEAN economic integration, envisioning a community characterized by the following: a) a highly integrated and cohesive economy; b) a competitive, innovative, and dynamic ASEAN; c) enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation; d) a resilient, inclusive, and people-oriented, people-centred ASEAN; and e) a global ASEAN.

ASEAN economies are expected to hold up reasonably well amidst the slowing of global growth, and the uncertain and shifting geo-political and economic landscape.

Forecasts from the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund place the region as the most dynamic part of the world with strong economic outlook for 2017 at 4.6% to 4.9% of GDP growth rate, vis-à-vis the 3.4% projected for the growth global GDP. The Philippines leads the region with a growth forecast of 6.8% for 2017.