Senator Loren Legarda said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should address the need to bring about more equitable and sustainable economic development across the region and to promote stronger regional cooperation.
Legarda said that the Philippines, as Chair of ASEAN 2017, has an excellent opportunity to steer ASEAN’s work in ways that will address the most critical challenges facing the region today.
“ASEAN is one of the fastest growing regions of the world, is home to more than 600 million people, and is the fourth largest exporting region in the world; but income distribution and equality concerns abound,” she explained.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), some 180 million citizens or about 29% of the ASEAN population still live in poverty.
The GDP per capita across ASEAN countries can be as low as 800 US Dollars to a high of 49,000 US Dollars.
“The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) seeks to boost the competitiveness and connectivity of the region and seeks to usher in more equitable development across the region by linking less developed economies with the more developed ones. But the AEC will only be relevant if this results in improvement in the quality of life of the region’s people,” said Legarda.
The Senator said there is a need for ASEAN to foster innovation and build its creative capacities with the end view of ensuring that the region’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) contribute to developing new solutions and value added outputs to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
According to the WEF, one of the region’s main challenges is to bring its infrastructure and information technology capability up to date so that it can take advantage of new technology.
“Innovation and creativity play a significant role in transforming small businesses into competitive components of the ASEAN value chain. We need to develop industries that will be innovators, rather than consumers, of technology. Many studies have shown that ASEAN MSMEs are users rather than creators of technology. Research is weak and there is very little collaboration with industries on research projects. We need to build internal innovation competencies given the nascent stage of research in ASEAN,” said Legarda.
Meanwhile, Legarda said that since the ASEAN’s source of great strength comes from all the countries in the region, which includes all its ten member countries, it can further be bolstered by the accession of Timor-Leste in the regional bloc. Timor-Leste is the only Southeast Asian country that is not yet a member of ASEAN.
“ASEAN is a vehicle for social and economic inclusion for the region’s people. Timor Leste has sought for admission into ASEAN. The Philippines, as one of the founding members of ASEAN, has a pivotal role in delivering the inclusive principles of ASEAN by ensuring that Timor-Leste’s long outstanding application is firmly addressed during its chairmanship,” said Legarda.