Making PH competitive in the Asean free market

MANLA–Increase the number of graduate degrees. Strengthen the assistance for education and training of potential scientists. Establish career paths for researchers. Increase the ratio of scientists to the general population.

These are some of the recommendations of a consultative workshop convened by the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) on how to make the country highly competitive when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) turns into a free trade market by 2015.

Other recommendations include the following: 1) increase investments in research and development up to 2 percent of GDP, 2) streamline the procedure for the disbursement of research funds, 3) require government-funded research to be patented, 4) consult with industry to identify priority commodities, for export and import, and 5) ensure that technical standards and regulations are at par with other countries.

Hoping to get a sizeable part of a $10-trillion Asean consumer base in terms of GDP, the Philippines is looking at ways in which to move in the free flow of goods, services, investments, and even employment within the Asean Economic Community by then. It is a highly lucrative single market and production base of more than 530 million consumers by 2020.

The NRCP, a consultative body of the Department of Science and Technology, organized the high-level consultation with the country’s leading scientists and industry stakeholders to map a blueprint for the Asean free market which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Asean free trade area

The Asean Free Trade Area is already in place since January 1, eliminating duties on nearly 100 percent of all tariff lines for the world’s ninth largest economy and the third largest in Asia.

When the regional free market expands, the stakes are considerably higher. Japan has already called for a pan-Asian free trade area involving itself, the Asean, Australia, China, South Korea, India, and New Zealand with a combined population of 3.1 billion people and a gross domestic product of almost $10 trillion.

“These are exciting times leading to 2015,” Science Secretary Mario G. Montejo said. “Barriers will be down and it will be a very good opportunity for our producers to penetrate a market involving big, big numbers — four to five times bigger than the current Philippine market.”

The Philippines gearing up

“We have to prepare for this, we are not competing with the West but with ASEAN countries that have the same level of competence in many areas. We have to look for our niche strengths,” he said.

As an example, Montejo cited the lagundi cough syrup, a distinctly Philippine pharmaceutical product which is already a P500-million industry. “All other local drugs such as those that are based on moringa (malunggay), for instance, will follow,” he said.
Montejo admitted the competition will be stiff, saying that the country “must be prepared vis-à-vis science and technology that should make us competitive.”

“Our collective desire to achieve national economic sufficiency is laden with complex challenges,” he said. “But we must embrace every challenge as an opportunity to acquire the skills, knowledge and flexibility that are necessary to be a self-reliant economy confident to trade with other economies.”

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