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Policy Forum: National Interest and the ASEAN Economic Community: Convergence or Competition?

The Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation Inc. together with Bugkos Research Program of the UP Asian Center conducted a policy forum entitled “National Interest and the ASEAN Economic Community: Convergence or Competition?” on August 17, 2017 at the GT-Toyota Asian Center Auditorium.

The forum started with presentations by leading political economists and international relations scholars from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines who spoke about their countries' interests in ASEAN and how their domestic stakeholders are preparing for the ASEAN Economic Community and the changing global economic architecture.

Dr. Josef Yap of the UP School of Economics, former president of Philippine Institute for Development Studies, was first among the presentors to provide background on the progress of ASEAN economic cooperation initiatives. He noted that the association has made great strides and is ready for further integration. In his presentation titled,W[h]ither the ASEAN Economic Community?, Dr. Yap also cautioned that while the Philippines will benefit through greater participation in the AEC, it also still lacks the scale and scope to successfully compete with other ASEAN countries.

Dr. Wisarn Pupphavesa of the Thailand Development Research Institute gave a Thai perspective. While the first part of his presentation focused on the plausible benefits of the AEC and the need for a deeper and more comprehensive integration in the ASEAN, he also mentioned the challenges that Thailand faces, such as Thai products not complementing the ASEAN market and Thailand being too shallow and narrow when it comes to committing to ASEAN's economic agreements.

The interests of Malaysia were discussed by Dr. Tham Siew Yean, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Her presentation, titled Malaysia in ASEAN Integration and Beyond, noted how important foreign trade is for the country not only because of the foreign direct investments it brought, but also of the influx of innovation and technology. According to Dr. Tham, with or without ASEAN, Malaysia will continue to participate in multilateral trade cooperation initiatives like the RCEP, TPP and FTAs.

Dr. Shofwan Al-Banna Choiruzzad of the University of Indonesia titled his presentation "As Long As You Love Me: Indonesia and the ASEAN Economic Community". He noted that despite the theoretical expectations and actual benefits of AEC in improving the ASEAN economy, things are moving slowly. Even though provisions in the AEC will benefit Indonesia, Dr. Choiruzzad mentioned that the country’s large domestic market are among the reasons why Indonesia‘s participation is not optimum – AEC is not among the countries national priorities. Committing to the AEC will moreover mean that Indonesia needs domestic reforms that will increase its competitiveness and connectivity.

The panel of reactors was comprised of Dr. Erlinda Medalla of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies and Philippine APEC Study Center Network; Jelen Paclarin of the Women’s Legal Bureau and Regional Steering Committee of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference; and Dr. Geoffrey M. Ducanes of the EU Asian Programme on the Governance of Labour Migration. The reactors provided different perspectives, including from specific economic sectors and civil society.