The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is poised to champion the Philippine trade agenda as it takes helm of the ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting (AEM) Retreat and Related Meetings on 8-10 March 2017 to be participated in by the 10 trade ministers from ASEAN Member States (AMS).

As lead agency for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Pillar, DTI led by Secretary Ramon Lopez will promote one of the current thematic priorities of ASEAN on “inclusive, innovation-led growth” for shared prosperity. The other two pillars touch on politico-security and socio-cultural.

Increasing trade and investment, integrating the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the global value chains and developing an innovation-driven economy are the identified measures to achieve said priority.

“Our strategic measures are consistent with our current agenda to promote employment and entrepreneurship. The AEM is an excellent platform to push for the country’s core thrusts on trade and investment, MSME development and innovation,” said Sec. Lopez, who will serve as the chair of AEM Retreat and Related Meetings.

The trade chief, however, ensured that his meeting’s chairmanship will be “fair, workable, rational and inclusive” among AMS.

The AEM aims at strengthening partnership with stakeholders to expand knowledge and utilization of ASEAN-related free trade and economic agreements, provisions and initiatives, including the benefits that an ASEAN national can receive.

The trade chief aims to give meaning to these highly-technical engagements, in a manner that ASEAN nationals, including the Filipinos, can identify how they can benefit from the opportunities posed by regional integration without fear and hesitation.

“It’s time for us to make people feel that their membership in ASEAN is relevant to their day-to-day experience,” he said, adding that DTI’s hosting also presents good opportunity to raise awareness, to promote understanding on the AEC and the Philippine participation in it, and to re-tell the country’s growth story.

On increasing trade and investment, Sec. Lopez emphasized that the creation of a sound policy environment and the right mix of support programs are crucial to improve the capacity of businesses to expand, upgrade and diversify. He mentioned that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an agreement involving the 10 AMS and the six Dialogue Partners will expand the ASEAN market from 600 million to 3.5 billion. DTI will be pushing for the substantial conclusion of RCEP by year-end at the AEM, according to him.

On MSME development, Sec. Lopez said that the thrust continues for instituting an enabling environment that allows the sector to develop and internationalize through e-commerce, as well as policies that ease the cost of doing business and provide skills and business training and facilitate the link with the global value chain.

The country will also prod ASEAN to embrace the evolving digital technology as leverage to enhance trade and investment, to provide an e-based business platform and to promote good governance and green technology.

“We hope to gather, harmonize and mobilize public-private efforts towards taking full advantage of opportunities under the AEC,” he concluded.

ASEAN 2017 bears the theme, “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”, which is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s objective to enhance cooperation with global partners, ensuring that ASEAN citizens, including the Filipinos, can live in peace, stability, security and growth, despite cultural diversities.

Following the AEM Retreat and Related Meetings is the ASEAN Summit in April to be chaired by President Duterte. The bigger meeting 49th AEM, meanwhile, is scheduled in September 2017.