The Mindanao Business Council (MinBC), meanwhile, said that Neri’s statement was “an insult to both the government and the private sector working on economic cooperation in the area” when he said that the BIMP-EAGA is the “wrong economic partner” for Mindanao’s industries.
Mindanao is the Philippines’ key player in the sub-regional economic block formed in 1994.
Domingo Teng, immediate past president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing Associations and Allied Industries, Inc. (Federation), said in a statement that EAGA has helped the industry, like forging joint business ventures with their counterparts in the other member countries.
“It is not true that nothing has happened in BIMP-EAGA. It is better for NEDA to come down and get the specific data on BIMP- EAGA,” he stressed.
Teng pointed out that two years ago, two local fishing companies in Southern Mindanao were able to put up canneries in Bitung, North Sulawesi through a joint venture agreement with Indonesian counterparts.
He said, too, that there is now closer interaction with neighboring countries that brought confidence for all sides to make business. He pointed out that trading in EAGA is not about competition, but complementation and consolidation of products and services that are enough to seize a sizeable share in the international market.
Teng pointed out that if not for EAGA, there would have been no joint venture agreements now in the fishing industry.
He also cited an agreement between the Philippines and Indonesia last year that extended bilateral marine and fisheries cooperation. Teng said the agreement afforded a new chapter in Philippine-Indonesia relations with both countries resolving to cooperate in working towards generating more employment and business opportunities.
Romeo Serra, MinBC chair urged Neri to clarify what he meant when he said the sub-region is not the natural economic partner of Mindanao.
He said Neri should be careful because he is a ranking government official whose pronouncements are closely watched by his counterparts in Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Neri's statement is "bereft with reality" and should be backed with statistics, he said. "It is uncalled for. Unfortunately, it is also not well-founded," Serra added.
Serra debunked Neri's claim the sub-region lacks a "big brother" or role model economy from which to draw investments.
He noted that tourism in Malaysia's Sabah state is even higher than the whole tourist influx to the entire Philippines, with tourist arrivals there at 2.6 million per year, compared to Mindanao's 200,000.
Serra said if not for the 1997 Asian financial crisis, EAGA could have already hit the road to progress with its thrust on complementation and consolidation.
He said with a roadmap from 2006 to 2010, the sub-regional grouping is taking off.
Serra said the BIMP EAGA is a very critical aspect of development in Mindanao.
He said, however, that while Mindanao should be looking out in the global economy, it has to do it by putting forward its vested interests.
He said that for Mindanao to develop, it has to play with the global economy.
Serra said that as a player in the international market, Mindanao has to take advantage of the network available in the three other countries in EAGA.
In tourism, he said, Mindanao has to take advantage of the network of Malaysia and Brunei.
In trading, Mindanao should also take advantage of their Islamic market linkages to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Serra noted.
He pointed out, too, that the Philippine government must be united in pushing for the development of the oil palm industry. "It should get technology, market, and investments from Malaysia," he stressed.
He also cited the need for a strong support from the national government on the development of the seaweed industry in Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, and Zamboanga.
He said the Halal poultry industry is supposed to be Mindanao's advantage because of the country's Avian flu-free status.
"But we can't push because corn price in Mindanao, which is 70 percent of poultry cost, is just way beyond the viable level.
Serra said working on these concerns, not derogatory statements, is needed.