Time to embrace our prosperity-for-all role
I just attended the Apec Business Advisory Council’s third meeting for the year here in Toronto, Canada. Known as Abac for short, the council meets four times a year to discuss wide-ranging issues and concerns that impact on doing business and promoting trade in the Apec region. (Apec, or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, is a forum for 21 Pacific Rim member-economies—essentially countries except for Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong—that promotes free trade throughout the region. Abac is its business voice.)
Our first three meetings are a preparation for our annual get-together with leaders of the 21 economies during our fourth meeting, which is scheduled in November in Vietnam. Abac is therefore a very important vehicle to bring to the global arena our country’s prosperity-for-all agenda. And this we must do because the inclusive growth of any country is extremely dependent on how it can better build mutually beneficial trade arrangements with the rest of the world. After all, in today’s world, trade policies, programs and agreements do include the services of the millions of overseas Filipino workers we deploy annually and the more than a million Filipinos employed by the business process outsourcing industry. Also included is how we can more effectively attract investments to build much-needed infrastructure, and even how we can better draw tourists to our country.
Unfortunately, too often our people do not understand how groups like Apec and Asean are intrinsically linked in job generation and ensuring that Filipino families can start getting a better deal in life. Take MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises). Twenty percent of all our discussions in Abac focus on the problems of MSMEs and how they can be further developed as part of global value and supply chains, or enabled to sell their products and services across borders. We spend much time talking about e-commerce, which has been key to the rapid growth of MSMEs in China in that they were enabled by various electronic platforms to do business all over the world. I have always believed this can be a game-changer for our country, but it should start within the country.
I worry about the difficulty of getting the government and the private sector to pursue joint plans and programs for the long term. A soon to be released study sponsored by Abac Philippines identifies the “silo” mentality in the government as a major obstacle to the development of MSMEs. Simply put, the government’s various agencies and offices tend to pursue their efforts independently even if joint and coordinated initiatives are clearly the only way forward. And, mind you, the private sector does a lot of this, too, with groups limiting efforts between and among themselves when pursuing nation-building projects and programs, and even within conglomerates that you’d think could be more coordinated, for example, in their corporate social responsibility programs.
Fortunately, there are clear signals that we are beginning to come together more strategically. We have the National Competitiveness Council where Trade Secretary Mon Lopez and his private-sector cochair Bill Luz are cementing public-private initiatives to make doing business easier. There is a Philippine Services Coalition being jointly organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Makati Business Club. Quite frankly, when these two major business organizations start working together more closely, our private sector’s inclusive business agenda will almost surely move forward more effectively. Being a member of both organizations, I say: Let’s start rolling up our sleeves and linking arms, folks! For sure, there is more to be achieved together.
Making sure that the public and private sectors agree on our Philippine agenda—especially for MSME development—in the global forums of Apec and Asean should be our first priority. Joined by my fellow Abac-Philippines members, Joanne de Asis, Lance Gokongwei, Francis Chua and Bill Luz, we commit to building sustained partnerships and pursuing constructive dialogue toward prosperity for all.
Tomas I. Alcantara is the president and chair of Alsons Power Group and the chair of Apec Business Advisory Council-Philippines.
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