A group composed of business leaders in Southeast Asia has expressed willingness to assist the Philippine government in helping the development of the micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the country.
The pledge of assistance was made during the series of meetings of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) with top Philippine government officials as part of the continuation of its chairmanship roadshow across the region.
ASEAN-BAC and KADIN Indonesia Chairman Arsjad Rasjid said the Manila roadshow aims to strengthen the trade and investment within the ASEAN region and also foster the bilateral partnership between the Philippines and Indonesia.
“We are doing a roadshow in every ASEAN country because we want to really hear the voice of business from each country. We need to make sure that we can make more trade and investment within us . The goal is ASEAN centrality. Innovation towards greater inclusivity. It means we cannot leave anybody behind,” Rasjid explained.
Indonesia is one of Philippines’ major trading partners with a total trade value of $9.5 billion per year. The Indonesian government also implemented a Philippines First Policy, which prioritizes Philippine agricultural goods for importation.
Among the officials that the ASEAN-BAC leaders met were Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual, ASEAN-BAC Chair for the Philippines Joey Concepcion, Asian Development Bank Officials, and the leadership of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
ASEAN-BAC Alternate Chair Bernardino Vega said the chairmanship roadshow focuses on five key priorities including digital transformation, trade facilitation, health, food security, and sustainable development.
As part of the digital transformation priority, Vega said the ASEAN-BAC hopes to introduce to the Philippine MSMEs the Wiki Wirausaha (WIKI) platform, which aims to provide MSMEs a digital space where they can market their products and services, not just to Filipinos, but also to Indonesians, and eventually, to the entire ASEAN region.
MSMEs comprise more than 90 percent of the businesses in the ASEAN region, which employ more than 85 percent of the region’s workforce.
The ASEAN-BAC hopes to link up the WIKI platform with the existing ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN) in the Philippines, a modules-based training program for MSMEs facilitated by accredited mentors. AMEN was a legacy program of Concepcion, when he held the ASEAN-BAC chairmanship in 2017.
“We had a discussion on Friday morning and our Chair directed the WIKI team and the AMEN team to work together. It will allow better market access to ASEAN countries and MSMEs can find lower cost of products,” said Vega.
“WIKI will provide a wide variety of services that the MSMEs need beyond the current mentorship program. Loans are also available there,” he added.
PH-Indonesia trade ties
ASEAN-BAC Board Council Member Maspiyono hopes to strengthen the trade facilitation between the Philippines and Indonesia.
He said this can be done by lifting the Special Safeguard Tax (SSG), an additional tariff that developing nations impose on certain agricultural products once they hit below an identified trigger price.
“The special safeguard, the country doesn’t need to inform the ASEAN, they can just implement it. Philippines sometimes just implements the safeguard to protect the local industry, which, in certain circumstances, is okay. But sometimes it’s too long. The protection should only be one year or two year, then the protection should be lifted up,” Maspiyono explained.
“It would be good for everybody because in the end, all these safeguards will be passed on to the consumers, which means higher prices. If lifted, it’s actually win- win. That can bring the prices of products lower. The consumer can enjoy the price and there can be more fair competition in the Philippines,” he added.
Maspiyono cited for example the interest of Indonesian food and beverage company PT Mayora Indah Tbk (Mayora) to invest in the Philippines, but is hindered by the SSG.
“The commitment is to invest. Now, Mayora can invest in the Philippines to have those coffee to be packaged in the Philippines so it can create jobs. The idea is how we can be part of that investment. On the side of Indonesia, the intent is to have investments in the Philippines and help out our brothers and sisters here, to contribute jobs to the Philippines,” Maspiyono explained.