IN my last column I suggested the priorities for the Asean 10 to consider for 2018 to realize the predicted forecast that these developing nations will be the fastest growing in the next decade.
But in reality, that is easier said than done.
Like strategic planners and public policy formulators know, the devils are in the details of the planning and actual implementation of those priorities.
Let’s take the case of agricultural and fisheries production and modernization, among the 650 million population of the area, and still growing, guesstimated at 2.5 percent annually.
This case alone, involves education of the farmers and fisherfolk of the region, changing their mindset so they knowingly and voluntarily want to adopt/accept modern methods and devices of mass production, industrialization, and learn/internalize basic corporate or cooperative management.
It also requires that the governments liberalize foreign investment rules to attract sufficient financing for this sector, drastically reduce local corruption and strengthen local governments to enforce laws.
Additionally, the governments must extend easy financial or banking access for the emerging entrepreneurial sectors—the small business startups—which is now attracting new college graduates and young professional in Asean.
In Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines, the average farmer and fisherman are marginalized. They enjoy the benefits of free public elementary education. But their dropout rate is presumably high because they are the poorest of the poor.
A big number of their children do not go back to farming and fishing because their governments encourage them to work in the US, Europe, the Middle East and major cities in Asia and the Pacific for better income. They are the labor exports. Their yearly remittances to their families form part of their governments’ hard currency revenues and international reserves.
They are the major contributors to their countries’ consumer spending trend.
Of course, academic and scientific researchers will disagree with me and contend I have no formal survey to make my conclusions. But if in the Philippines alone, there are some 3,000 overseas Filipino workers who leave daily as contract workers in the Middle East, Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, the Central Asian cities, and as crew members of international shipping, it is a no-brainer to conclude the same is true of four other Asean member countries.
Industrializing Asean agriculture and fishery also needs enlightened political leaders to encourage inventors and innovators with additional safeguards for their patents and new inventions because piracy of their creations is definitely a threat in this age of globalization.
Private industries, on the other hand, must do their part by paying considerable remuneration for inventors to live decently while working on their creations full time so the countries—and the unified or integrated Asean 10—can catch up with the industrial world.
Then, there is a need for the Asean economies to get fast access to accurate international market information in real time. This will need the experienced information gatherers—reporters if you wish—plus top political, economic, technology and environmental analysts for correct interpretation of all factors directly and indirectly affecting prices and market/financial movements/developments.
The experienced communicators/reporters/analysts will help insure the competitiveness of the Asean enterprises in the world market and enable Asean members to diversify their manufactured goods, or change to alternative markets, as fast as will be tactically needed whenever that imperative arises.
So how do we launch and jump-start this Asean prioritization move?
It must be endowed with the strong collective political will of the 10 Asean heads of state to do it. Hopefully within a year, at least, with working agreements between agricultural and fishery educational institutions and top government cabinet officials, and the currently operating government and private news media of the region can begin the operation.
But while the media in almost all of the Asean 10 are functioning, they will have to boost their manpower with practicing professional economists, geopolitical experts, technologies and environmental scientists who will provide the fast and accurate interpretations of developments and trends impacting on the region.
The outputs of these experts must include peeks in the immediate and long-term future of the Asean. It is also probable that private industries will support this because they can benefit from these, as long as their executives can see how the information are directly or strategically relevant to their businesses.
I know from where I write because we tried this when I was consultant to the
Philippine News Service more than 25 years ago. We failed because the geopolitical and economic environment was different then and the Cold War was still taking its toll in the region. Asean unity was a dream then.
However, this 21st century is more conducive to this type of initiative because of the current Chinese diplomatic and trade offensive following its rise to become the second top economic power in the world.
The nuclear threats from North Korea, the flashpoints in the Middle East and
South China Sea, the present war against international terrorism, the pending economic shifts in Europe with Brexit looming, the dropping confidence of the Americans themselves on their elected President Donald Trump and the deteriorating physical environment of the planet earth are, among other factors, also pushing this inevitable
Asean development to reality.
This is the time to push this so Asean economic integration can be realized sooner and induce inclusive growth of the area. At the same time, it offers the world its agriculture and marine resources as source of food, organic medicine, and young manpower in the next decades.
The odds, to me and other incurable optimists/hopefuls, now is better than any in the past.
Singapore is this year’s Asean chair and host of the 32nd Asean summit
conferences. To Thailand and Vietnam will pass the summitry gavel in the next couple of years. On them will depend how much ironing job they will exert to clear the devil out of the details.