EAGA leaders to set up more business-friendly policies

In a joint statement, local government officials and representatives who attended the two-day 2nd BIMP-EAGA Chief Ministers, Governors and Head of Local Government Forum here stressed the need for the EAGA to establish more business-friendly policies and provide supportive measures to boost transport connectivity, economic partnerships, social interaction and cultural understanding in the sub-region.

The sub-region comprises Brunei, East Indonesia, East Malaysia and the Philippines' Mindanao and Palawan.

"Recognizing the challenges in accelerating progress in the BIMP-EAGA, we resolved to more actively contribute to sustain the positive socio-economic and development gains achieved by the cooperation by institutionalizing our role and participation," the forum statement said.

The joint statement was signed by South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes for the Philippines, State of Sabah's Industrial Development Minister Datuk Ewon Ebin for Malaysia, Talaud Regency Chief Elly Engelbert Lasut for Indonesia and Belait District Officer Haji Mohammad Haji Abdul Rahman for Brunei Darussalam.

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 is home to about 55 million people.

As initial strategies, the forum will identify "quick wins" for the sub-region such as increasing the volume of trading, setting strategic commodities for trading and investment, expanding border trading areas negotiating more fisheries cooperation agreements.

It vowed to evaluate and explore the possibility of expanding the free trade areas in the BIMP-EAGA and push for more dialogues with the private sector.

The forum also plans to optimize twinning agreements between and among local governments and establish mechanisms for closer coordination by creating in-country coordinating structures and establish national secretariats that would serve as focal points for information dissemination.

To further the participation of local governments in BIMP-EAGA initiatives, especially in decision-making, the forum agreed to create a technical committee that will further refine the terms of reference of local government participation and establish a suitable institutional mechanism for it.

Fuentes, the forum's chair, said they will further discuss the terms of reference, which will set their levels of engagement and the country representation in the forum, during the BIMP-EAGA Planning Session scheduled on January next year.

She said they will seek assistance from the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) for the creation of the technical committee. "Hopefully before the third edition of the forum, we will already set an institutionalized mechanism so we can have a more directed engagement with our neighbors in the EAGA," said Fuentes, who also chairs the Confederation of Provincial Governors, City Mayors and Municipal League Presidents of Mindanao (Confed).

The 3rd BIMP-EAGA Local Government Forum will be hosted by Makassar, Indonesia sometime next year and will coincide with the 16th BIMP-EAGA Senior Officials and 13th Ministers Meeting.(Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)