DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 October) – The Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) has come full circle here today (Thursday) 20 years after its launching, with the challenges of the 2015 ASEAN Economic Integration beckoning the sub-economic grouping
BIMP EAGA was launched here on March 24, 1994 to accelerate the economic growth of less developed areas of the participating member countries.
Former President Fidel Ramos, one of the founding leaders of BIMP0EAGA, appeared bullish on the prospects of the sub-region in the looming integration of ASEAN economies during the opening of the 2nd BIMP-EAGA – IMT GT Trade Fair and Business Leaders’ Conference.
“Today, we are firming up the ideal ASEAN community through the progress of the BIMP-EAGA and IMT GT,” Ramos told hundreds of delegates from the five countries.
IMT GT stands for Indonesia Malaysia Thailand Growth Triangle, which was formed a year ahead of BIMP-EAGA.
The trade fair, participated by over a hundred exhibitors from the five countries, formally opened shortly after Ramos delivered his speech at the business leaders’ conference.
BIMP-EAGA was formed with the consensus of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, the late Indonesian President Mohammed Suharto and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.
“We envisioned a peaceful [and] borderless trading, fishing, educational and tourism areas without any borders, without any protocols and without any special bodies. Today, we see the fruition of this dream,” Ramos said.
President Benigno S. Aquino III failed to attend the event, but he sent a video message containing his “optimism for Mindanao’s growth under the BIMP-EAGA initiative.”
Ramos, a former military general, noted that the two decades of BIMP-EAGA have “things that worked and did not work” for the participating areas of the member countries.
The failures should serve as lessons to current government and business leaders to move forward and face the opportunities offered by the ASEAN economic integration next year, he stressed.
Among the key issues that hobbled BIMP-EAGA is the establishment of the direct movement of goods, people or services, through sea and air links, between several focus areas of the participating member countries. While some have been established over the years, as in the case of Mindanao, they were not sustained although there are efforts now to revive them.
BIMP-EAGA covers the entire sultanate of Brunei; the provinces of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and West Papua of Indonesia; the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the federal territory of Labuan in Malaysia; and Mindanao and the province of Palawan in the Philippines. The subregion covers a land area of 1.6 million square kilometers with an estimated population of 69 million, according to data from the Asian Development Bank.
Ramos believed that BIMP-EAGA, along with the IMT GT, through renewed and intensified teamwork, could become important players not just in ASEAN but globally.
Let us be “more caring, sharing and daring” for ASEAN and for the global community, he urged.
This year’s event, held at the convention center of SM Lanang, carried the theme “Realizing the Opportunities of ASEAN Integration.” The 1st BIMP-EAGA – IMT GT Trade Fair and Business Leaders’ Conference was conducted two years ago in Malaysia.
Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, the event’s main organizer, said that BIMP-EAGA and IMT GT have become platforms for sub-regional integration that will directly contribute to the realization of the ASEAN integration.
“In fact, many have already identified us as the test beds of the coming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC),” she said.
The AEC seeks to integrate the economies of the 10 ASEAN member countries “into a single market and production base.”
The ASEAN member states are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Singapore and Viet Nam.