South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, chair of the 2nd BIMP-EAGA Chief Ministers, Governors and Head of Local Government Forum, said they are exploring the 10 proposed areas of cooperation through direct linkages between local governments in the sub-region.
"These are low-level but more direct discussions on what we can jointly do to boost the economic development of our respective areas," said Fuentes, who was appointed head of the Philippine delegation to the forum as chair of the Confederation of Provincial Governors, City Mayors and Municipal League Presidents of Mindanao (Confed).
EAGA comprises Brunei, East Indonesia, East Malaysia and the Philippines' Mindanao and Palawan.
The Mindanao Economic and Development Council, the forum's secretariat, reported that delegations from West Papua in Indonesia held formal talks with officials from Davao Oriental led by Gov. Corazon Malanyaon for the forging of sisterhood agreements.
West Papua officials initially sought additional investors in their wood processing industry to help increase their annual capacity from the current 270,000 cubic meters to their quota of 1.5 million cubic meters per.
The report said the Indonesian province reportedly offered investment opportunities for tourism infrastructure in the area and fisheries and mariculture trading.
Zamboanga del Norte Gov. Rolando Yebes also held exploratory talks with Malaysia and Brunei for tourism and mariculture trade exchanges. Sabah's Industrial Development Minister Datuk Ewon Ebin initially agreed to lead a tourism mission to Zamboanga del Norte.
General Santos City Mayor Pedro Acharon Jr. and Sarangani Gov. Miguel Dominguez are now reportedly trying to arrange direct linkages with the local government of North Sulawesi in Indonesia to revive bilateral discussions on fisheries under the BIMP-EAGA framework.
Brooke's Point, Palawan Vice Mayor Jean Feliciano met with the Sabah delegation to explore the possible opening of sea linkage between the town and Malaysia's Kota Kinabalu and Labuan.
Feliciano also held talks with the Brunei delegation for the opening of another sea link between the town and of Muara in Brunei via Labuan and Kota Kinabalu.
The Island Garden City of Samal initially received notice from Malaysia's Sarawak State regarding negotiations between the city and the owner of Ekran Bhd for the proposed reopening of the Samal Casino Resort.
The IGACOS delegation led by Mayor Aniano Antalan and the Brunei delegation agreed to facilitate technology exchanges and investment missions on mariculture before the end of the year.
In the session between Tagum City and Sabah delegations, Medco reported that the Malaysian representatives signified to facilitate negotiations for the possible shipment of banana chips, processed and fresh fruits like mango and durian from Tagum.
The city also agreed to discuss further with Indonesia's West Papua for a city-to-city cooperation on wood processing and expansions of banana plantations in West Papua.
Tagum City officials also invited Sabah's Ministry of Industrial Development to conduct trade missions in the area and explore possible opening of new plantations for rubber, palm oil and jathropa under a joint venture agreement.
Sultan Kudarat, in a separate session with the Sabah delegation, offered at least 8,000 hectares of land for possible joint collaboration on rubber and palm oil production.
Janet Lopoz, Medco executive director, said they are presently facilitating these direct linkages as part of their efforts to provide equitable benefits for all areas under the BIMP-EAGA cooperation.
"Our strategy now is the consolidation of products from various areas of Mindanao for possible trading with our EAGA partners," she said. But Lopoz admitted that their efforts to consolidate products from Mindanao were hampered by logistical problems but she assured that the government is now trying to address them.
"Right now, we are closely coordinating with Region 10 and ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) for the consolidation of their poultry products and also among ARMM, Region 9 and 12 for tourism," she said.
Fuentes said they are presently pushing for the opening of more air and sea linkages in the sub-region to help realize these initiatives.
"For our part, we want to have more entry and exit points here in Mindanao so tourists and investors will have to go directly to our area instead of going first to Manila or Cebu," she said.
Aside from Davao City and Zamboanga airports, Fuentes said they pushing for the inclusion of General Santos City and Cagayan de Oro City airports as entry and exit point for international travel in Mindanao.
Minister Ewon said the State of Sabah is presently negotiating with Malaysian airline companies for the opening of flights from Kota Kinabalu to Davao City, General Santos City and Manado in Indonesia.
He said tourists and investors from their area currently relying on the two weekly flights between Zambonga City and Sandakan in Malaysia.
BIMP-EAGA, set up in 1994 to accelerate trade and tourism potentials of the member-countries, straddles a land area of approximately 1.54 million square kilometers and home to about 55 million people. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)