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ASEAN’s future impact on the Philippines

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Trade liberalisation, regional economic integration and free trade are the key drivers behind ASEAN integration but what does this mean for the Philippines  asks EON’s Junie del Mundo

ASEAN

Trade liberalisation, regional economic integration, free trade – these were the three oft-repeated phrases I repeatedly heard from global leaders, among them Russia President Vladimir Putin, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Mexico President Felipe Calderon at the APEC CEO Summit in Vladivostok, Russia which I attended last month.  Listening to the talks, I could not help but ask, what do all these mean for the Philippines?

Integration is Inevitable

There are no ifs and buts about it – trade liberalisation and economic integration are inevitable  will happen and  it will become a way of life. are here to stay. In fact, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), of which the Philippines is a part is set to become a reality will be realised by 2015.

The AEC envisions a single market and production base characterised by free flow of goods, services, investments, capital, and skilled labor. It aims to build on the collective strength of the ASEAN, which boasts of a total consumer base of over 600 million and a GDP of over US$1.13 trillion.  The ASEAN brand will be our banner, its collective strength magnified by the distinct offerings of each individual nation under its umbrella.

Although this is obviously a promising proposition for the ASEAN members, it also portends some very  real risks for the Philippines us. With the playing field now flat, the Philippines our country will be competing even more fiercely with the country branding campaigns of other members of the ASEAN, and can easily get drowned out by the a strong ASEAN branding campaign.

Just as AEC emphasises the strong suits of each country, so does it stress the generic nature of these countries’ offerings, including that of the Philippines.  If you think about it, those endless swathes of beaches, handicrafts, and exotic delight that we are so proud of and which are part of our marketing campaigns, are in fact ASEAN generica.

Competing with Strong Country Brands of ASEAN

Certainly, we do not want the Philippine country brand to get lost in a sea of strong country brands.

Just last week, while watching CNN, I saw the “Invest in Remarkable Indonesia – a very well executed campaign, and a permutation of its omnibus “Remarkable Indonesia” ad.  Thailand has also released a new campaign, entitled “Thailand at the crossroad of ASEAN”. “Malaysia, truly Asia” still resonates strongly in people’s mind, as the nation pushes the unique selling theme of biodiversity.

Even the emergent nations have strong country branding initiatives, backed up by real changes on the ground.  Shedding all vestiges of its turbulent past, Cambodia’s ongoing tourism campaign highlights the uniqueness of the kingdom, which complements its very progressive trade and investment policies.

Not to be outdone, Myanmar’s new leadership is riding on the tails of its democratic changes to bring in foreign investment. Singapore, of course, has positioned itself as the knowledge, trade and cultural hub of the region and it continues to live up to this identity with very well coordinated marketing and trade promotions efforts.

Is It Enough To Be “More Fun?”

Where, then, does this leave the Philippines? Although we have started the tourism “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign, I dare say it is not enough to take us to where we want to be.  As we integrate ourselves into the regional economy, our country brand should be designed holistically so that it reflects the competitive strengths of the Philippines in its entirety, and shine the spotlight on the unique combination of strengths that makes the Philippine country brand one of a kind.

The Goal of Creating a Strong Country Brand for the Philippines

For us, then, the goal is clear: we need to ensure the strength of the Philippine country brand. Now, more than ever, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions: How can we remain competitive and make our products and services stand out in a market characterised by free flow of goods, services, labor, capital, and investment?  What advantages do we have that we can maximise? And where do we start?

If I may offer a humble opinion, I believe it is high time to convene Philippine National Branding Council.  In my view, the proposed branding council should be tasked to develop the country’s brand platform; design a roadmap for promoting and strengthening country brand and reputation; execute country branding roadmap and specific programs; and monitor and evaluate country branding programs.

As the ASEAN Economic Community takes shape, the Philippine National Branding Council will also take the role of ensuring that our country brand stands strong. When the ASEAN Branding Council is established, the council will simply guide us to align our branding initiatives with that of the region.

Beyond these, the Philippine Branding Council ensures that we hold true to the promise of the Philippine country brand – a promise that we can embrace and fulfill, both as a country and as an important part of the ASEAN.

Recognizing the impact of free trade and trade blocs on the Philippines, the Management Association of the Philippines will focus on regional integration at its next CEO Conference.

The Philippines must be an Active Player, not a Bystander

Needless to say, we cannot afford to delay actions on these developments given that AEC is here, and that countries in the ASEAN are already aggressively positioning themselves as the destination of choice of both investors and tourists. We need to find ways to bring attention to our many strengths, and show the world that our country brand can deliver more than just fun.

In the months ahead, knowing our core identity and positioning in the ASEAN Economic Community will play a big role in how we can harness economic integration to our advantage.  With the Philippine National Branding Council, we will be in a better position to forge ahead in the an increasingly borderless world.

As the ASEAN brand gains strength, so can should the Philippine country brand flourish. With planning and determination, the Philippine country brand can truly live up to its many promises.

Junie del Mundo is the chairman and CEO of EON The Stakeholder Relations Firm and chairman of the 11th MAP CEO Conference on 10 September 2013.

Branding economy Indonesia investment Management Opinion Philippines Singapore The Philippines

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