MANILA—Since the ASEAN’s source of strength comes from all the countries in the region, Sen. Loren Legarda on Thursday said that it can further be bolstered by the accession of Timor-Leste in the regional bloc.
At present, Timor-Leste is the only Southeast Asian country that is not yet a member of ten-member country ASEAN.
Legarda said that as one of the founding members of ASEAN and current chair, the Philippines could help ensure that Timor-Leste’s long outstanding application is firmly addressed.
“ASEAN is a vehicle for social and economic inclusion for the region’s people. Timor Leste has sought for admission into ASEAN,” Legarda said.
“The Philippines, as one of the founding members of ASEAN, has a pivotal role in delivering the inclusive principles of ASEAN by ensuring that Timor-Leste’s long outstanding application is firmly addressed during its chairmanship,” she added.
Legarda, meanwhile, urged the Philippine government to address the need to bring about more “equitable and sustainable economic” development across the region and to promote stronger regional cooperation.
“The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) seeks to boost the competitiveness and connectivity of the region and seeks to usher in more equitable development across the region by linking less developed economies with the more developed ones. But the AEC will only be relevant if this results in improvement in the quality of life of the region’s people,” Legarda said.
She said there was also a need for ASEAN to nurture innovation and build its creative capacities to ensure that the region’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) contribute to developing new solutions.
“Many studies have shown that ASEAN MSMEs are users rather than creators of technology. Research is weak and there is very little collaboration with industries on research projects. We need to build internal innovation competencies given the nascent stage of research in ASEAN,” she added.
Legarda said that ASEAN was one of the fastest growing regions of the world and home to more than 600 million people. It is also the fourth largest exporting region in the world; but income distribution and equality concerns abound.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), some 180 million citizens or about 29 percent of the ASEAN population still live in poverty.
The GDP per capita across ASEAN countries can be as low as USD 800 to a high of USD 49,000.
According to the WEF, one of the region’s main challenges is to bring its infrastructure and information technology capability up to date so that it can take advantage of new technology.