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EDITORIAL - Regional integration

If the Europeans can do it, President Duterte said, why can’t those in the Pacific Rim? He was talking about regional economic integration, which is now underway among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

ASEAN, however, is just one of the regions that are part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. With diverse rules and cultures, APEC members have had a more complicated task of making free trade work for the benefit of both its prosperous and less developed economies.

Even ASEAN economic integration, established in 2015, is a challenging work in progress. Several ASEAN economies have been better prepared than the Philippines for the competition that is heightened by regional integration, and for the opportunities opened by the free flow of goods, services and labor, funds, technology and ideas. Many Filipino entrepreneurs are not fully aware and have not yet availed themselves of those opportunities.

Corruption and red tape also hinder the Philippines’ integration into the regional economy. Systems and processes that have become highly efficient in certain ASEAN states are not matched by those in the Philippines, which are designed to be cumbersome to encourage the payment of “facilitation fees” or grease money. Economic restrictions enshrined in the Constitution also deter foreign direct investments and prevent the country’s full integration into open markets.

Certain sectors particularly in agriculture are not ready for competition, as the government fails to match the support provided by other countries to their farmers, fisherfolk and agribusiness entrepreneurs. The quality of Philippine education, despite improvements in recent years, also continues to lag behind several Asian economies.

In Vietnam for the APEC summit last week, President Duterte promised to discuss integration, the problems arising from globalization as well as support for small entrepreneurs as the Philippines hosts the ASEAN summit and related meetings. After the summit, he must ensure that there is sufficient follow-through so that all the discussions will lead to solid results.

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