On Nov. 4-10, just before the Philippines hosted the ASEAN Summit, the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week was held in Da Nang, Vietnam. The week was filled with major gatherings and events, such as the fourth APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) meeting, the annual APEC CEO Summit, and the ABAC Dialogue with APEC Leaders. The ABAC Philippines team came in full force: Joanne de Asis, Lance Gokongwei, and myself, as well as alternate members Francis Chua and Bill Luz.
As the voice of the private sector in APEC, ABAC presented recommendations on how to best sustain the momentum for inclusive growth in the region. These include: 1) pushing the completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership; 2) addressing the need for effective structural reform and eliminating barriers to free and open trade and investments; 3) prioritizing and facilitating development and investments in core digital infrastructure, and addressing the challenges of the digital economy; 4) supporting efforts to empower MSMEs in global value chains, to increase women’s participation in business, and to enhance food security; and 5) working with the government to address technology infrastructure, skills retraining and education, job generation, and labor mobility.
From these recommendations, ABAC Philippines, with the guidance of Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, has identified four areas where we and the government can actively work together: 1) addressing nontariff barriers; 2) facilitating the mobility of skilled workers and promoting quality workforce; 3) enhancing MSME global presence with emphasis on digital economy and e-commerce; and 4) expanding financing availability and accessibility for MSMEs.
ABAC Philippines is taking steps to support these areas. At our recent meeting, we presented the APEC MSME Marketplace developed by the Department of Trade and Industry. The Marketplace is an online, cross-border business-to-business (B2B) platform aimed at mainstreaming MSMEs in the global economy. We hope Philippine MSMEs will take advantage of this platform to expand their businesses and help them scale up and penetrate the global market. The digital economy is here to stay, and the Philippines must fully and actively participate to maximize the vast opportunities it offers.
While the role of trade liberalization in bringing prosperity is underscored in APEC, the distribution of benefits to all people remains a challenge. There is growing discontent over globalization, which was discussed by USC Marshall School of Business during our meeting. It said in a study: “While the Philippines is committed to technological progress, globalization, and free trade—with minimal likelihood of a reversion of its optimistic trade outlook—the implementation of its adjustment programs needs improvement.” It added that while there are policies in place, “these tend to be for specific sectors only and are not very clear and popular.”
President Duterte, who was one of the APEC CEO Summit keynote speakers and who took part in the dialogue with ABAC members, mentioned that globalization in its current form had left some people behind. “To unleash the full potential of globalization, we must create an inclusive environment where everyone has an opportunity for growth,” he said. This can be achieved, he said, through the promotion of competition, complementation, and cooperation among businesses.
The APEC Summit was held at an auspicious time—prior to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In many ways, APEC is aligned with ASEAN. As emphasized in a meeting among ABAC members in ASEAN, the Asia-Pacific will stand to benefit if it draws from ASEAN’s experience, particularly on strengthening physical and people-to-people connectivity and promoting inclusive business.
ABAC Philippines is excited to work with the Philippine government in realizing the identified priorities. We look forward to the active support of the Philippine business community to help achieve our inclusive growth agenda and contribute to prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.
Tomas I. Alcantara is chair of ABAC Philippines and is chair and president of Alsons Consolidated Resources Inc.
BusinessMatters is a weekly column in Philippine Daily Inquirer where key players in the private sector give their views on prominent and significant issues of the day. The column appears every Saturday.