ASEAN biz leaders want regional trade & investment centers

HANOI, Vietnam (MindaNews/28 Oct) – Business leaders in Southeast Asia are planning to develop trade and investment centers across the region to help facilitate the smooth flow of capital and various products and services among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) within the 10-nation regional bloc.

In a dialogue with the heads of states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) here Thursday noon, leaders of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) said it is initiating the establishment of the ASEAN Trade and Investment Centers (ATIC) to further promote intra-regional trading and enhance the ongoing integration of the regional bloc’s economies.

The ATICs, according to a three-page report submitted by the ASEAN-BAC to the ASEAN leaders, will “serve as business incubators and trading house that would facilitate access to companies intending to undertake export and import activities and presence within the regional market.”

The report highlighted the issues and concerns raised by the more than 100 delegates from various parts of the region that joined the two-day ASEAN Business and Investment Summit organized by ASEAN-BAC, which comprises leaders and representatives of various national chambers of commerce in the region.

The regional trade gathering was among the sidelights of the 17th summit of ASEAN leaders and heads of states, which formally opened Thursday at the National Convention Center here.

The dialogue, which was led by Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, was joined by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and the nine other Southeast Asian leaders.

The Philippines’ business sector was represented in the dialogue by ASEAN-BAC-Philippines chair Jose Concepcion Jr.

Lawyer Miguel Varela, chairman emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), said the establishment of the ATICs will further hasten various transactions among businesses in the region and help spur the development of various industries.

“We’re looking at utilizing this mechanism to set into action various policies that had been adopted by ASEAN concerning the business sector,” said Varela, who led the PCCI delegation at the business summit.

Varela said among these policies is the ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for SME Development for 2010-2015 earlier adopted by the regional bloc.

Such plan covers the implementation of policies and programs that would help enhance the “internationalization” of SMEs and SME Marketing Capabilities, improving SME access to finance, strengthen SME human resource development and capacity building, incubator and local SME development, establishment of an SME service center or ASEAN SME service desk and the setting up of an ASEAN SME regional development fund.

Varela said the opening of the ATICs will encourage more businesses within the region to integrate their operations and pursue joint ventures in various emerging sectors and industries.

He cited as example the joint venture agreements forged by several fishing and tuna canning firms as well as local power producers with companies from Thailand and Indonesia.

The Alcantara-led Conal Holdings Corporation has partnered with Thai firm Electric Generating Public Company Ltd. for the construction of a 200-megawatt coal-fired power plant worth at least US$450 million in the coastal town of Maasim in Sarangani Province.

Several tuna producers, led by the General Santos City-based RD Corporation, earlier opened tuna canning plants in Manado, North Sulawesi in Indonesia through partnerships with Indonesian companies.

“These are the type of ventures that we’re trying to facilitate right now and hopefully the opening of the ATICs will open up the same opportunities for companies in other industries,” Varela added.

Meantime, to complement the development of the ATICs, the ASEAN-BAC urged the state leaders to adopt strategic measures to further improve access among regional SMEs and their capacity to use information systems in their business practices and export transactions.

“Based on all of these considerations, ASEAN-BAC is urging steps to provide a 21st century platform for trade and commerce that will foster economic integration, spur trade and advantage for our businesses, large and small alike,” the group noted.

ASEAN-BAC earlier introduced the “ASEAN Green Lane” to connect the strengths of the business sector with the global market.

The move was also aimed at “improving the ability of businesses to have real-time, dynamic information to leverage their opportunities, and ensure swift, reliable logistical supply chains in the region and beyond.”

Owing to this, the group said the proposed ATICs could use their private sector networking capacities to look into initiatives that may complement the establishment of the green lane.

It specifically cited a proposal submitted by the Geneva-based Global Coalition for Efficient Logistics for the installation of various “digital soft infrastructure” to improve trade access and investment facilitation across the ASEAN region.

It said they’re aiming to bring together leading firms, governments and non-profit organizations to attain lower cost of trading and make regional SMEs and other businesses more competitive. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)