We will have the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by January 2015 or just 14 months from now. This is a great opportunity for many of us in the region to experience freer movement of goods and services or people.
While some people see more threats than opportunities in regional free trade like the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), the threats are too often exaggerated. Free trade means local producers and manufacturers will have (a) wider sources of production inputs that are cheaper and/or better quality, and (b) wider and plentier buyers and consumers as price-distorting schemes like import tariffs are removed or significantly reduced among members of an FTA.
Thus, if local carinderias and food shops can have wider sources of cheaper poultry, pork, rice and vegetable products, then their consumers and clients, mostly poor people like jeepney and taxi drivers, ordinary office workers, will benefit in the form of cheaper food prices.
The local producers of poultry, pork, rice and vegetable products will be challenged to improve their production and hence, sell cheaper too. They will compete product per product, not only here but in other ASEAN member-countries.
While free trade of goods is the more important aspect of an economic union like AEC, concerns on education, healthcare and other sectors are also important. Economic and business competitiveness is mainly a product of a competitive educational system. Internationally traded goods and services are embodiment of the skills and efficiencies of the people who produce them.
On Tuesday, November 19, 2013, Publicus Asia, Inc. will sponsor a big forum on Education Competitiveness in an ASEAN Integrated Era, to be held at Edsa Shangrila Hotel, Ortigas. The goal of the forum is to explore the various opportunities and challenges in the higher education system of the country as the AEC is fast approaching.
There is a good line up of high profile speakers. Like UP President Alfredo Pascual, Ateneo de Manila University President Jose Ramon Villarin, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) President Melito Salazar, Assistant Secretary of ASEAN Affairs Teresita Barsana, Cong. Roman Romulo, Chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education, and Sen. TG Guingona, Vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Education.
I will attend this forum. I am particularly interested in how the country’s colleges and universities are partnering with the private and corporate sector including multinational companies here, in producing well-trained personnel, equipped with sufficient technical, financial and cultural knowledge in maximizing the various opportunities while minimizing certain risks and threats in business and international trade.
We have to be prepared not only with the influx of better-manufactured products from our neighbors in the ASEAN, but also the influx of foreign talents who will come into the country as temporary visitors, or as long-term investors. Nationals of other countries outside the ASEAN like those from S. Korea, Taiwan, Japan, US and Europe, will also be expanding their businesses and manufacturing plants in any of the ASEAN member-countries in order to take advantage of the zero or near-zero tariff trading among AFTA members.
The key term is "education competitiveness". How competitive the country's tertiary educational system, both formal and informal, public and private, should be to enable our young people to adjust and even excel, in a huge, wide and diverse market. Within the ASEAN alone of 700+ million people, and the rest of the world. Even the short-courses vocational and technical education sector will have an important role in preparing a big, well-trained, pool of workers and entrepreneurs.
The forum next week promises to be a huge and wide platform to exchange ideas and observations, especially from the tertiary education and corporate sectors. There is also value for civil society leaders in exploring what are the various threats and opportunities in the AEC and help prepare and retool our people, to focus more on the opportunities than risks, the positive than the negative, of a free trade era.---------
Free Trade 26: "Buy Local" and Protectionism, June 24, 2012
Free Trade 27: Proposed EU-PH FTA and TRIPS Plus, September 24, 2012
Free Trade 28: Exports and Prosperity, March 11, 2013
EMHN 7: Free Trade Improves Public Health, February 26, 2013
Business 360 8: TPP, RCEP, SAARC and Free Trade, June 17, 2013