MANILA, July 30 — The Philippines has benefited from a substantial increase in trade and investments with the economic integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which created a wide choice of goods for consumers thus supporting local businesses to expand overseas.
Zaldy Patron, Executive Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Office of ASEAN Affairs, said the creation of ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) has allowed products of ASEAN countries gain access to the Philippine market.
“Now with AFTA, you go to supermarket and you see Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai products. In the same manner, if you go to their countries, you can also find (Philippine brands) Jack ‘n Jill, Penshoppe, Oishi,” he said in a forum.
The ASEAN member states, which include the Philippines, signed the AFTA agreement in 1992. It covers trade in goods, trade in services, investment and other areas of cooperation.
“And (the benefits of ASEAN economic integration are) not only in terms of trade but also in terms of investments. (Conglomerate) San Miguel Corp. is in Indonesia, Julie’s Bakeshop and then you have Kopiko also from Indonesia coming here,” he added.
ASEAN also groups Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
“I think it’s good. There is a direct correlation between the ASEAN economic integration and the economic growth of the members of ASEAN,” Patron noted.
Likewise, Patron said the Philippines has benefited from ASEAN tourism strategy to promote the region as a single tourist destination.
“(Also) visa-free travel to the ASEAN member states… They can come here without visa. The reduction of travel cost so that made it affordable to go to these countries as well,” he said.
Patron further said the Philippine hosting of the ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings this year also boosted local tourism and the country’s Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) industry.
“They say tourism is good stimulus of the economy because when visitors come, they stay in lodging places, in hotels and they spend. And they also hire transportation services, they buy your SME (small and medium enterprises) products, souvenir products,” he added.
Through the ASEAN grouping, the DFA official said the Philippines likewise received assistance from ASEAN Humanitarian Center (AHA).
“Whenever there is disaster, because we are an ASEAN, you don’t need to go to other countries, see them and asked for help. Readily they do that, without any notice, they are on standby because we have agreement. We saw that in Haiyan (typhoon Yolanda),” Patron said.
He pointed out the AHA Center so far responded to 13 major calamities in the region since its establishment in 2009.
“You know who benefited a lot from them? Philippines accounted for the seven of the 13 major disasters, including Haiyan,” he added. “I think overall, if you quantify the assistance that ASEAN gave just for Haiyan was about USD 6 million.”
Moreover, Patron noted that while the fighting in Marawi City is not a natural calamity, there are internally displaced people.
“AHA is supposed only to respond to natural calamities. But out of solidarity, the governing board of AHA decided to send help for our brothers and sisters in Marawi,” he added.