Beyond Engagement

Junie del Mundo examines how ASEAN nations and business can empower themselves for the common market

This year, the ASEAN welcomes Myanmar as its new chair – a stirring recognition of the country’s efforts to trudge the challenging path toward political and economic reform.  Surmounting fragility and conflict to become a market based economy, Myanmar is well on the road to becoming a gateway between East, South, and Southeast Asia, and will no doubt benefit greatly from its strategic position in the heart of the region. 

Indeed, ASEAN’s 2014 theme of “Moving Forward in Unity to a Peaceful and Prosperous Community” mirrors the deep commitment of the Myanmar government to become part of the broader ASEAN Economic Community, and the willingness of the ASEAN members to welcome it into its fold. It also shows ASEAN’s willingness to embrace the change that it brings.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Myanmar’s willingness to completely revamp national systems and way of doing business in order to be part of the global economic village.  For sure, they have had to learn much before and along the way to a market economy, but a clearer idea of the steps they need to undertake to compete in this new economic arena are now apparent.

With the Philippines’ entry into the common ASEAN market in less than a year, our businesses have to make the sprint from learning to engaging, and later on, to empowering themselves with the tools that would make them true winners in the post-AEC landscape.

However, to this day, the majority of people in ASEAN are still unaware and do not understand the ramifications of the ASEAN Economic Community. Across the region, and especially in the Philippines, businesses are struggling with the concept of economic integration. While they recognize that it will impact the way they do business and market competition, and they have access to the information on how economic integration will play out, they remain at a loss as to what their next steps will be.

This simply means that we have to work harder to let our people truly appreciate the AEC. Governments need to engage their publics, not just the business community, and collaborate with the private sector to bring about greater awareness for economic integration.

Thankfully, progressive business leaders are doing their bit to take their peers through the learning process, and hopefully onto the action phase. Knowing is the first step to doing, which is what we want to see in the next few months:  concrete, proactive moves instead of knee-jerk, reactive measures. We want businesses to engage government and all their partners to identify and address the challenges of integration and exploit the opportunities that it presents. When businesses begin to take these opportunities as means to propel their growth then we know that they have moved from engagement to empowerment.

In 2013, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) addressed the information gap through the AEC Information Exchange. This caught on among business and professional groups as well as in the academe, and discussions on economic integration caught on beyond the Exchange participants.

Having ignited the discussions, MAP is eager to go to the next phase of preparations. Taking off from the AEC Information Exchange, MAP is setting its sights on addressing the concerns of businesses by focusing on industry-specific issues. The goal is to answer businesses’ questions on what ASEAN integration means:  to their operations, their industries, and their working environment.   We hope to move towards workable policy interventions that will prove useful to our SMEs in the post-integration era.

With less than a year before the AEC becomes a reality, and with a new leader that definitely understands the benefits of the AEC, I hope to see economic integration taking root in the minds of all.  For sure, there is much work to be done toward this goal, especially in communicating the nuts and bolts, as well as the dangers and promises of economic integration.

Which is why as its ultimate beneficiaries, we have to do our fair share of work now. Taking a cue from Myanmar, which is showing us that learning and doing, can happen simultaneously, our businesses should be emboldened. Businesses should use exchanges to build lasting engagements that will, in the end, empower them to make full use of ASEAN integration.

Junie del Mundo is Chairman and CEO of EON The Stakeholder Relations Firm  

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