BIMP-Eaga: Eagle eyes toward 2025

Part Two

DAVAO CITY—As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) still grapples with single-market birth pains, its little brother down its East Asian side is putting more teeth to its dream of reconnecting itself, its archipelagic regions bound by common historical trading ties using land bridges. The little brother is known as the Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (Bimp-Eaga).

Arturo P. Boncato Jr., the assistant secretary at the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, said the tabled air linkages and other connectivity projects in the future would be hinged again on the fate of the roll-on, roll-off (Roro) cargo shipping between two southern Philippine cities and the progressive city of Indonesia’s northwestern group of islands.

“It would be a natural, and desired consequence, of having air links between the cities of Davao and General Santos in Mindanao, with Bitung, and, probably, reviving another one in Manado after this Roro shipping,” Boncato said.

The air links would make transactions faster when traders and exporters meet more frequently and have more interface business matches, he explained.

Davao and Manado had been served in the past by three Indonesian airlines, all of which folded due to lack of passenger and cargo load, despite several prodding from some Davao City councilors the airlines continue flying the route.

Elusive proposition

BUT the market remains elusive to make for even a break-even proposition. This would be the same risk being consciously considered by Roro shipping owners.

In a huddle with the BusinessMirror during the public launch of the project, Edrick de Guzman of the Super Shuttle Roro (SSR) said the company owner was well aware of such venture and the risk of having a sustainable shipping load to keep business afloat.

De Guzman, SSR’s assistant vice president for corporate planning, would not say how long is the owner’s “string”, or patience, to keep plying the sea lane in case of a lukewarm patronage from the business sectors of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Fernando Juan C. Perez of the newly trimmed Philippine Department of Transportation (DoTr) said the sea route would be the first to be operated commercially. Nonetheless, age-old barter trading between Indonesia and the Philippines has used the wide Celebes Sea, which is coincidentally dotted with islands from both countries that appeared as stepping stones to each other.

Barter trading

THE Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) is well aware of its rich seafaring historical feat to trade with neighboring Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. All trace proud links to Asian empires linked and also proudly blares their common religious connections with Arab trading missionaries.

Today, the ARMM is pushing anew to revive these historical links, at least in trading. The Armm also seeks to recapture the essence of barter trading from two known major routes: the Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi and Sabah route, and Indonesia’s Sulawesi with
the eastern part of Sarangani and Maguindanao.

Lawyer Ishak Mastura, chief of ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments, brought a team of experts from the region to argue its proposal before the meeting of senior officials of the BIMP-Eaga in Palawan. Mastura said the regional government also granted export processing zone authority (Epza) status to areas in Tawi-Tawi, the main doorstep of the Philippines’s southern backdoor, to enhance the invitation of the Armm for Indonesian, Malaysian and Brunei traders to increase their business activities down south.

Areas with Epza status enjoy tax holidays and other perks, with additional offers also extended by the ARMM itself, including Gov. Mujiv Hataman’s declaration that all its economic zone areas are halal-certified.

More projects

IN a news briefing in December last year after, finalizing the Bimp-Eaga Vision 2025 document, Dato’ Sri Abdul Wahid Omar told a news briefing that the plan “also highlighted several regional economic cooperation issues, such as connectivity initiatives, which, among others, saw the completion of the West Kalimantan and Sarawak Power Interconnection project.”

Abdul Wahid, minister to the Malaysian Prime Minister’s department in charge of economic planning, added that the interconnection project was scheduled for full operation this year.

“There’s the flurry of trade and investment activities, including the signing of memorandum of collaboration between Bali Palm Oil Corp. of the Philippines and Felda Global Ventures of Malaysia in May this year,” he said.

Abdul Wahid added that the BIMP-Eaga Business Council has also initiated the Brooke’s Point, Palawan-Kudat, Indonesia and Brooke’s Point-Sandakan shipping services.  All these talks on pushing anew for greater connectivity also jived well with BIMP-Eaga’s big brother Asean, which has crafted the “Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025”.

Similar vision

ACCORDING to Boncato, the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025 has a similar vision of multiple connections from within and outside the Asean.

“We take note of the ongoing study on the Investment Profiling in Bimp-Eaga’s Economic Corridors, which will identify investment opportunities and provide information to potential investors in the subregion,” Boncato said. “We are also pleased with the agricultural cooperation between Brunei Darussalam and Sarawak, Malaysia, on livestock, rice, fisheries and halal industries.”

The Mindanao Development Authority has pursued the corridor-development strategy, way back to the early days of the BIMP-Eaga, with the typical sewing of the highways of Lanao del Norte and Misamis Oriental dotted with factories into one industrial lane, or corridor.

Along with this corridor are their respective cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, with the latter, hosting the seaport and airport.

BIMP senior officials hoped that the sea and air links would soon multiply, banking also on these nation’s untapped tourism sites as reasons convincing enough to trigger more government spending on developing them.

The famous Coral Triangle environmental conservation program implemented in the last decade also includes the BIMP sea territories. According to Boncato, the Bimp-Eaga Vision 2025 would be endorsed for ministerial approval on the BIMP-Eaga heads of state meeting here on April 29.

The environment

WHILE the bulk of the projects are poured into the connectivity and communication infrastructure, the BIMP-Eaga is also conscious about its inextricable situation to deal with the environment.

The regional grouping has recognized that, although it is a region of envy over its lush natural resources, it is also in the path of typhoons and the increasing devastating episodes of climatic changes, including droughts.  Therefore, amid the biggest public spending so far to implement its progress toward 2025, the development plan was consciously nailed to its theme: develop a resilient, inclusive, sustainable and economically competitive BIMP-Eaga by 2025. The plan was aptly named “Rise BIMP-Eaga”.

This would dovetail perfectly with its founding vision of aid in building the resiliency of local communities in BIMP-Eaga and ensure the protection and sustainable use of the natural resources within BIMP-Eaga that will also redound to the benefit of the local populace.

The program “desires to protect the natural landscapes, prevent damages to the health of BIMP-Eaga residents, and provide food security even without compromising the sustained economic growth in the region.”

Within Asean, a disaster-response center was created after the infamous Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 that hit 14 Asian countries and affected 9 million mostly coastal residents, including tourists.

In the respective countries, budgets have been allocated already to protect or revive watersheds, train residents in vulnerable communities to disaster response and to educate them on the strength of their natural resources as likely livelihood sources from tourism, as well as appreciating their protection from incursions.

Building strength

WHAT seemed to have persistently hounded the BIMP-Eaga is its primary motive behind installing seaports and airports to enhance connectivity: moving up people and products.

On products, mainly, the nations’ leaders have burned eyebrows to turn around its commonality, especially in agricultural products, because of common agricultural economies. Rather than become a source of envious competition from within, economic and private business leaders soon arrived at a strategy to form a common trading bond and bind their common products to produce volumes and be able to deal with the global market.

In the previous decade, in 2005, a multination BIMP corporation was formed to produce halal chicken and poultry-meat processing plant. Each country had its own assignment: Malaysia would take care of the processing because of its advance industrial economy while Indonesia would produce the corn. The Philippines would also produce corn and grow chickens as the archipelago remained free of the Avian flu virus. Brunei would be in charge of ensuring halal processing.

Over the last five years, the four countries were already convinced of forming an Eaga-wide production and distribution venture to break into the global-scale trading. Only on this cooperation would the issue of common products would be solved and turned around into a great advantage.

To be concluded

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Manuel Cayon has written about Mindanao for several national newspapers for more than two decades, the most part of it on conflict-reporting, and on the political, insurgency and civil rights front. He also scribbles on the religious and human rights issues for the Thailand-based Catholic news agency as well as he strings for several wire agencies. His stint with then TODAY newspaper started his business reporting obtaining in Mindanao, continuing to this day with BusinessMirror. He received citations and awards, including two Biotechnology awards for reporting. He was a fellow of the US International Visitors’ Program Leadership in 2007 on conflict resolution and alternative dispute resolution. He attended college at the Mindanao State University and the Ateneo de Davao University