5th ASEAN-EU Business Summit: Integration through Trade and Business

 At the heart of the 5th ASEAN Business Summit is integration through trade and business.

The summit was held last March 10, 2017 at the Conrad Hotel. The wisdom behind the summit is to increase investments and market penetration through regional integration. Today, EU is ASEAN’s 2nd largest trading partner while ASEAN is EU’s 3rd largest trading partner.

The panel of speakers focused on the areas for growth and development. Antonio de Rosas, President and CEO of Pru Life UK, emphasized that his company is supporting growth in the ASEAN by creating products that appeal to the masses. He said that the necessity for this is evident from the coverage rate of its products, to which 41% of the insured is from Metro Manila and the affluent and high income market.

Another area of development, which is currently viewed as a hindrance, is the lack or underdeveloped financial infrastructure. Trade among ASEAN countries is only at 25% which is quite low for a bloc as a panelist pointed out. It was also noted that the different levels of technological maturity that support the finance of ASEAN members are making trade especially supply chain trade among the countries difficult. The panelists asserted that the development of cross border payment must be toward a standardized process that focuses on speed and ease. 

Said to be in ASEAN’s horizon is the opportunity for the bloc to develop into a world class automotive manufacturer. However, safety standards standardization and alignment has yet to be attained among the ASEAN members. There is also a particular concern on the current standards in the manufacturing of motorcycles. Most motorcycles are manufactured without an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS).  A study has found that 1 in 4 motorcycle road accidents is actually ABS-related.

The next discussion point was about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which the panelists view as more than just philanthropy. Daniel Koch of Covestro Thailand sees a sustainable CSR as a profit area that creates value. He, together with Marc Fancy of Prudence Foundation, stressed that it could drive real and certain changes when done strategically. In the Philippines, one avenue put forth by Assistant Secretary Felicitas Agoncillo-Reyes of the Board of Investments is the inclusive business models as a form of CSR for businesses where it goes beyond just philanthropy. 

Meanwhile, non-tariff trade barriers are seen as causes that hold back the level of competitiveness of regional trading. There is accession among the panel members on the harmonization and recognition of mutual agreements among the ASEAN member countries on non-tariff trade measures as the solution. It is viewed as reducing the risk for non-tariff barriers. However, as a panelist pointed out, measures must be agreed on per sector.
As for the government and ASEAN, Joey Concepcion of RFM Corporation stated that the small businesses’ concern is survival and most see the ASEAN as a competitor or threat. The said vantage point could be shifted to recognize the membership in the ASEAN as an opportunity to widen markets.

Finally, H.E. Francisco Fontan, the EU Ambassador to the ASEAN, was quite optimistic about the future of the ASEAN. He could see the progress of the ASEAN as a feat considering the diversity and differences in culture of the members. He claims that although the process might not be perfect, the remarkable thing about the bloc is the willingness of its members to engage in dialogue. As for the future of the ASEAN-EU relationship, a bloc to bloc Free Trade Agreement is encouraged to improve the partnership between the two.