The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is eyeing consultations with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Education (DepEd) to design a course on the Asean to prepare the youth for the region’s economic integration.
Through the course, the DFA aims to promote entrepreneurship for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and help them turn local brands into global ones, Zaldy B. Patron, the executive director of the DFA Office of Asean Affairs, told the BusinessMirror.
The initiative is part of the Asean’s priority for inclusive and innovation-led growth in the region under the chairmanship of the Philippines this year, which is also the association’s 50th founding anniversary. It is one of the six priorities of the group, which include people-oriented and people-centered Asean, peace and stability, maritime security and cooperation, resiliency and regionalism. “We talked with the CHED and the DepEd and they said it is taught in high school. In my time, Asean occupied one chapter of our history book. But if we want to be serious about the economic regional integration, all of us should call the attention of the institutions to teach more about it and know how it would fit with other subjects and make its teaching more often and extensive,” Patron said.
Patron added universities and colleges should explore Asean relations to maximize the current and targeted regional trade policies for MSMEs. He added the course could also complement the proposal of Sen. Cynthia A. Villar that would make entrepreneurship as a separate subject to be taught among high-school students.
“We’re coming up with ways to develop MSMEs; we want to integrate them into supply chains, which means linking them with companies in the region that will buy their products. We also want to reduce costs of doing business. The ministers are now targeting a 10-percent reduction in doing business for MSMEs”, he said.
The lower cost would serve as an additional incentive to MSMEs, which comprise 99.6 percent of the country’s businesses, to produce goods that are 97-percent tariff-free or zero-importation cost among Southeast Asian countries.
He said the Philippines, as chairman, will further encourage innovative products from start-up businesses that use digital platforms for cheaper delivery and wider market reach.
“Digital economy is very much part of the plan. We want to encourage start-up businesses and other innovative businesses. The Asean will be coming up with a declaration on innovation that emphasizes the significance of start-up businesses and disruptive innovations for the transformation of all sectors,” Patron said.
He said the Philippines and Thailand are the only Asean members who have made initial contributions to the association’s science and technology fund, which aims to enhance information sharing and create business solutions, apart from expanding the region’s various bodies of knowledge. He said the Philippines has contributed $1 million to the fund.
Patron said the course will also help introduce the Filipino youth to various business councils among the Asean members.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry operates business councils with Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“I encourage the youth to interact with Philippine business councils or the companies involved in the Asean economic integration. Because of Afta, Filipinos now have more choices of products. Before, we were limited to US products and investments,” Patron said.
“Free trade with the US under its current administration is now dead, so the regional trade is our opportunity,” he added.
The DFA also wants to include in the course the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that facilitates free trade with the 10 Asean members and the countries with free-trade agreements with the region.
“RCEP is part of that and six other countries that include Japan, India, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations are difficult because the countries have different interests, but they want to see progress under our chairmanship. The government is partnering with Australia to particularly promote women and youth entrepreneurship,” Patron said.
In its 50 years of existence since its creation on August 8, 1967, the Asean has still much to accomplish, but Patron hopes promoting awareness of its missions, issues and successes to Filipino youth in schools will further energize and provide insights to its leaders toward a more cooperative, innovative, peaceful, united and progressive Asean.
“Our immediate neighbors are the other Asean members, so why not have celebrations and discussions of issues and progress of the Asean every August 8? The youth are the future national and business leaders of the country, so let us educate them about the Asean,” Patron said.