"The BIMP EAGA engagement is on the track even if it is composed of the member countries' poor regions," Romeo Montenegro, Medco information and communication chief, said Friday.
Montenegro admitted that the regions included in the growth area are poor but he said it doesn't make it a wrong partner. As he debunked the statement of Sec. Romulo Neri of the National Economic Development Agency, who described the sub-region a wrong economic partner "for its lack of complementation among members", Montenegro said that "just because Mindanao and the rest of EAGA is poor, we cannot work to be at par with the rest of the capitals (cities) in the BIMP area?".
Neri cited the absence of an economic "big brother" to generate investments to the "little brothers". Instead, he said, the right direction points to China, Korea, Japan and Australia as the "natural economic partners".
Montenegro said Medco respected Neri's opinion. "But it doesn't change the national government's stand over engagements with the BIMP EAGA," he said. He said he has to assure the Asian Development Bank, a BIMP EAGA stakeholder, who he said also reacted to Neri's pronouncements.
Montenegro said BIMP EAGA also looked at those markets Neri had mentioned but he said the subregion was consolidating its products to be directed to a larger market, including the four countries.
Eventually these markets will view the BIMP EAGA as one market because of the consolidation, Montenegro said.
He told MindaNews that the intra-region economic cooperation in sectors like trading, agriculture, and tourism were already making headway, and that Mindanao has picked up from the sub-region's potentials though it was growing slowly. The process of growth would take time, he said.
"If only we were not hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis we would be hitting big now," he said.
The BIMP-EAGA includes Brunei Darussalam (whole area), Indonesia (the provinces of North Sulawesi, East Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, Maluku, Irian Jaya, South and Central Kalimantan, Southeast and Central Sulawesi, Southeast and South Sulawesi), Malaysia (Sabah, Sarawak, and Labuan), and Philippines (Mindanao and Palawan).
Montenegro named BIMP EAGA champions, like Sarangani Gov. Miguel Dominguez, who could tell if the sub-region was really a wrong economic partner. He said these political and business leaders were thankful over the opportunities opened to them. He cited the extension of the fisheries agreement between the Philippines and Indonesia was one of the fruits of BIMP EAGA that local players were grateful.
The Davao International Airport, which Neri said as undertapped, was another fruit of the BIMP EAGA thrust. He said the airport was "strongly approved because of the BIMP EAGA justification.
Without BIMP EAGA, Mindanao would have no direct air, sea, trade, and tourism links with neighboring cities in the East ASEAN area.
The sub-regional economic cooperation was launched in March 1994 during the time of President Fidel Ramos and was patterned after the success of the growth area concept in several sub-regions in Asia.
Based on its 2006-2010 Road Map, immediate goals included the need to encourage increased trade, investments and tourism in the subregion and the long term goal was to change the economy from one based on resource extraction to one based on higher order processing and non-resource based activities.
Three years ago, the NEDA chief also watered down the sub-regional grouping in a press conference doubting it could help fuel growth in the inclusive areas.