Mindanao to be key player in ASEAN economic integration, says biz leader

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 Oct) – Where does Mindanao sit in the scheme of things in the upcoming ASEAN economic integration? The answer is that there will be no “sitting” involved.

Vicente Lao, chairman of the Mindanao Business Council and Philippine country representative of the BIMP-EAGA Business Council, said on Thursday that Mindanao will be part of the “moving trade and production process” of goods across the ASEAN region. Mindanao, after all, is a major trade gateway to the BIMP-EAGA.

Mindanao’s strength lies in its location and its resources. Lao said that the island has fertile land and largely remains to be typhoon free; hence, crops can grow all year round.

He also mentioned that the Bukidnon-Davao (BuDa) area has high potential in terms of being able to plant high-value vegetables and flowers. “Bukidnon’s high altitude climate makes it conducive to planting crops that can’t be grown elsewhere in the Philippines,” he said.

Logistics, however, is seen to impede the foreseen dynamic trading processes. Building roads and bridges are already addressing this problem.

He said that Mindanao also has a lack of storage facilities; that there’s a need for an uninterrupted temperature-controlled supply chains. These can efficiently store and distribute products and extend shelf life of fresh agricultural produce.

“Mindanao also has a growing poultry business that is bird-flu free,” he said.

One of the biggest weakness of Mindanao that’s yet to be addressed is power and energy. He is optimistic that the island will be self-sufficient by next year.

Lao said that every country will be involved in the cross-border trade and in the ASEAN Integration.

But the end of the process will see competitive products produced by members of the network.

“We have to stop thinking of every country producing goods by itself,” he said. “We have to start thinking of the whole ASEAN as a single source of the goods to be sold in Europe, to US, or to China.”

He foresees this process to be effective because this circumvents every country’s handicap. “For example, if you want to produce something but it costs six pesos of electricity to produce it in the Philippines, we can turn to Myanmar where the cost of production is significantly lower at only 10 centavos,” he shared.

By moving raw materials, he believes that ASEAN entrepreneurs can create products sold at competitive prices because of low production costs.

The same analogy applies wherever there’s cheaper labor or better technology elsewhere in ASEAN. “There are things that we can do that other countries can’t; and we also have our own handicap,” he said.

“By moving around, we are able to keep the production cost low,” he said. “We can expand this to a bigger community so that everybody in ASEAN will benefit and create more jobs and investments.”

Lao spoke during the formal opening of the 2nd BIMP-EAGA and IMT-GT trade fair and leaders’ conference on Thursday in SM Lanang. The event gathered over 250 exhibitors and 700 delegates, respectively.

In his speech, Lao said that the event shared the vision to boost the BIMP-EAGA and the IMT GT’s socioeconomic capabilities in trade, investment, tourism, and others. He hoped that at the end of the fair, they’ll be able to implement key programs to “advance efforts towards peace and development.”

According to the infographics published by the Investor Relations Office of the country, Mindanao accounts for 30 percent of the country’s food output. More than half of the estimated mineral wealth of the Philippines is found in Mindanao.

Mindanao accounts for 100 percent of the rubber production in the country. The same set of infographics showed that Mindanao, being the food basket of the country, accounts for the production of the following: pineapples (88%), banana (81.1%), coffee (75.7%), coconut (58.9%), corn (50.2%).