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Gov’t, businesses should work as one under ASEAN bloc – DTI

(The Philippine Star) | Updated May 21, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The private sector and the government should work together to strengthen the country’s competitiveness in preparation for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) next year, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo noted in the recent AEC Forum: Converging towards an AEC Game Plan.

Domingo said in the forum that both public and private sectors should work together in taking full advantage of the foreseen integration and to capitalize on it in pursuit of inclusive growth.

“The ball is in our court, so to speak. And we need to level up our game, intensify our strategic initiatives, and adopt a unified approach,” Domingo said.

Domingo said that the country is well prepared to join the AEC by the end of 2015. He said that 99.65 percent of commodities traded within the largest ASEAN economies—namely Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand—have been implementing zero duties since January 2010.

The services sector is also poised for even greater integration, with 80 of the 128 services sectors have already been liberalized. Domingo believes that this is vital in successfully realizing the objectives of the AEC, as increased competitiveness relies on the free flow of labor and investments within the ASEAN.

To this end, government seeks to further enhance the country’s competitiveness through policy and program initiatives that strengthen our local industries. This endeavor is based on the strengthened partnership of government and the private sector. Areas covered by these initiatives: simplifying government transactions; ensuring transparency in bidding of government projects; developing industry roadmaps; fixing tariff distortions; enhancing infrastructure development; and focusing on education and skills training of the Filipino workforce, the backbone of the national economy.

Domingo added that government is also reviewing its tax regime to make the country even more competitive. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has been benchmarking the country’s tax structure against other ASEAN members, according to Domingo. He said that taxation in a country significantly affects investment decisions.

Domingo is confident that the country will come out ahead in the AEC; after all the Philippines enjoys a unique advantage over its neighbors—with an English-speaking, educated, capable and loyal workforce determined to contribute to our country’s development. Business groups, for their part, urged Congress to speed up the crafting of a Competition Law that would prevent anti-competitive business practices, abuse of market power, and anti-competitive mergers and other unfair trade practices; the end-goal: to strengthen local businesses of the integrated economies in the ASEAN region by next year.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), on the other hand, said that a strong law on fair competition serves as the best defense of local businesses amid the influx of cheap commodities in the region. Such a law provides protection to investments flowing into the country. PCCI president Alfredo Yao said, in a seminar-workshop on competition policy and law, that the Competition Law will promote a more open environment for investments and will level the playing field for new entrants and current investors wishing to expand or diversify their investments in the domestic market.

He also noted that, “We hope that when Congress goes back to work for its May 5 to June 13 session, the 16th Congress would give top priority to approving competition bills now pending before it.”

In the Senate and the House of Representative, the pending bills have gone through the respective first reading stages, and are now in the public hearing and consultation stages.  Guiding the bills through the various legislatives stages are Senator Bam Aquino in the upper house, and Congressman Mark Villar in the lower house.

The country’s economic resurgence and its evolving role as a pillar of growth in the AEC will be the main focus of the World Economic Forum on East Asia. The forum, which will be held from May 21 to 23 in Manila, will have dedicated sessions on the East Asia economic outlook and on the acceleration of trade liberalization for ASEAN economic development.
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