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Friday, September 18th, 2020

Contemplating the future

by November 20, 2016 General



“LET’s invent the future.” That was the advice that the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, Inc., said in an interview where he sat beside another technology icon, Bill Gates of Microsoft. It was Jobs’ reply to a question from the audience about legacy. He recalled that when he came back to save a sinking Apple, he instructed his staff to give away old designs and memorabilia from the company to different museums. He said that the cleaning-up process enabled him and his team to focus on the future.

Some of you, dear readers, may ask, “What future?” The world seems to be as divided as ever, as we are in our own little archipelagic corner of it. But, there is value in just clearing one’s head of the noise of the present and anxious voices reaching out from the past, to have time to contemplate the future. In a purpose-driven way, we need to look at that future with opportunities in mind.

For instance, our reinvigorated ties with China come at a time when the United States appears to be retreating from trade initiatives such as the TPP or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, of which the Philippines is not even a core member. The US-driven TPP involves 12 countries: US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru. Yes, the TPP excluded China as well.

However, under a Trump presidency, the TPP is dead in the water. Incoming President Donald Trump has made it clear that he is not inclined towards more US imports, and outsourcing of jobs elsewhere. China, on the other hand, has brought to the attention of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) that it is willing to fill up the leadership gap to be left behind by a more parochial America.

In Peru, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) that would include 21 countries and a smaller Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that would include 16 countries, but not the United States.

“Building a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific is a strategic initiative critical for the long-term prosperity of the Asia-Pacific,” Xi said in his address before world business leaders during the APEC Summit. He was the only head of state with a new deal on the table, while assuring his audience that China will not shut its doors to the outside world but will open it even wider.

President Barack Obama is expected to offer the best assurance he could give–his successor’s word that America will continue to back its allies and honor its commitments. An assurance of a status quo sans a TPP versus a new international trade alliance backed by the world’s single biggest market? I don’t think that even Obama’s goodwill and eloquence could beat that.

I can imagine that most of the world leaders and global investors are looking with a moist eye at China’s billion-people market and tremendous lending potential. Compared to the US, a monolithic, capitalist China with state control over industries and manpower resources would be easier to talk to, translators included. Our advantage is that China is our neighbor.

Of course, national security experts would be quick to point out that indeed China is the neighbor who has become too close for comfort, building installations where they shouldn’t. Yet, who can turn a blind eye to the overwhelming possibilities of more jobs created as a result of closer trade ties with China?

We can be East Asia’s gateway to the West, and vice-versa, given our strengths in communications and technology. The twin freeport zones of Subic and Clark in Pampanga can be our own version of Hong Kong and Macau. Clark has its share of casinos while Subic has its cozy, crazy nooks of rustic vibes next to lush golf courses and access to marine waters. Once interlinked, a foreign tourist can get the best of local cuisine, shopping bargains, and scenic spots in a well-secured, digitally connected tourism and investment corridor.

It is our young, versatile workforce that can tip global investors into looking at the Philippines as their “Home in the Orient.” TESDA must get out of its comfort zone and look at information technology and data technology as backdoors to more progressive, innovative and high-paying, skills-based jobs. The Gig economy where the self-employed look for “gigs” not “jobs” is here to stay. In inventing our future, we need to place our bet on where technology is headed, because that would influence where the jobs would be, five to 10 years down the road.

Let’s move forward as a nation, because we have a future to invent, finally, in our favor.