An Asean economic community

May 28, 2014 at 11:15pm

Congratulations are in order to President Aquino, the entire government, and the business community of the country for the successful hosting of the 23rd World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia. The WEF is an international institution, based in Geneva, Switzerland, that aims to develop advanced schemes in the global trade through public-private cooperation. It meets annually in Davos, Switzerland but also holds regional forums as in this case of the Manila meeting. This particular WEF on East Asia has tabled such interesting topics as barriers to globalization, gender issues, climate disturbance, government transparency, and major economic challenges.


As expected, and rightly so, the Philippines has highlighted our successes in the economic front. Indeed, there is so much to be proud of in the macro-economic front. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima is correct when he wrote in a blog at the WEF site that: “Reforms have the power to alter a country’s economic destiny. This is why they inspire confidence from markets, businesses and citizens. The Philippines provides an example of how reforms can change perception and reality.”


Secretary Purisima points out how the Aquino Administration “has transformed the country from being “the sick man of Asia” to an economic success. He cites our gross domestic product which has grown by 7.2% in 2013, the fastest in the ASEAN region, and the investment grade ratings we have received from Fitch, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s in 2013, lowering the country’s borrowing costs and allowing us to redirect funds for social services and infrastructure. Even more recently, as Purisima pointed out, we have been given another rating upgrade in May 2014 from Standard & Poor’s. Last but not least, the Philippines has jumped up 26 places in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index since 2010, and 30 places in the World Bank’s and the International Finance Corporation’s Doing Business Index in 2013.


Secretary Purisima ends his blog by referring to the forthcoming 2015 economic integration of Asean region. He points out that “we must integrate our economies so as to simplify rules and lower the cost of doing business”.  But to achieve this integration, and I would add to make it work for all our citizens, and especially so that economic integration benefits the poor, reforms are essential.


Secretary Purisima is absolutely correct in saying that “reforms are not rocket science” and that “Good governance is good economics”. But what are these reforms? In particular, what conditions are essential so that we will have prosperous, just, sustainable and happy communities in all the Asean countries? What kind of policies must be formulated, adopted and implemented?


To identify the reforms that must accompany the creation of an ASEAN economic community, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration and the Ateneo School of Government convened a group of economic, environmental and development experts from Asean countries at the Loyola campus of the Ateneo de Manila University last May 19 to discuss, debate and come together on our vision of the Asean community. After a full day discussion, we agreed on a statement that outlines this vision. Aside from the three organizations mentioned above, Oxfam Grow Campaign East Asia, Asiadhrra, the Asian farmers association, Myanmar Climate Change Watch, and the Indonesia Legal Resource Centre have also endorsed the stamen. In addition, Prof. Koh Kheng Lian (National University of Singapore), Dr. Alexander Christian Chandra (Trade Knowledge Network/ISSD), Dr. Ramon Razal (University of the Philippines Los Baños), all distinguished academics, has joined the statement.


I reproduce in full our statement with the wish that policy-makers in our region would heed what I think are solid and helpful recommendations.


“More than 500 million ASEAN citizens are dependent for their food, livelihood and other needs on the resource base of forests, seas, rivers, lands, and other ecosystems. Their protection must therefore be reconciled with the growth rate targets of the ASEAN economic integration, in 2015 and beyond.


Being inherently vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and other environmental challenges, ASEAN cannot afford to grow and clean later. Clauses that protect the environment must be included in ASEAN economic agreements.


The ASEAN integration we want ensures healthy and productive ecosystems across the region. Its 2015 implementation score card targets, and post-2015 vision, must include:


• Enhanced regional cooperation for the protection and conservation of the remaining forests and peat lands of the region—the lungs of Southeast Asia, whose preservation is critical for stabilizing the global climate;

• Implementation tools, such as a common or trans-boundary mechanism to establish, monitor and undertake environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and strategic impact assessments (SEAs), guided by the Precautionary Principle, Right-to-Know and standards of international environmental laws, to protect the environment from extractive and destructive business operations;

• Harmonised policies phasing out coal, gas and oil to create a level playing field where renewable energies can compete with other energy sources;

• A policy commitment and action plan to establish a network of marine reserves and an end to overfishing within ASEAN;

• A clean production framework for industrial production;

• Regional norms to ensure that public and private sector investments in agriculture and energy do not undermine the food security, climate-resilience, livelihood and welfare of peoples and communities in the region;

• Policies that would shift the funding support from industrial agriculture to sustainable farming practices; and regional programs promoting agro-ecology and sustainable ecosystems;

• More progressive and united positioning of ASEAN in the UNFCCC negotiations;

• Information and knowledge sharing and capacity-building on good adaptation and climate resilience-building policies, practices and programs; and,

• Regional policies aimed at concretizing a low carbon development path for ASEAN and its Members.

We recommend the adoption of a charter of environmental rights which will include robust and effective mechanisms for access to information, public participation and environmental and social justice.


We will work together towards these solutions for our region’s sustainable and peaceful future.”


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