Interview: Roselan Johar Mohamed
How can the BIMP-EAGA block overcome existing barriers to fully unlock its visibility and potential?
ROSELAN JOHAR MOHAMED: Firstly, we must overhaul our mindset and start thinking as one great nation to overcome trust issues and eradicate selfishness. The single catalyst for this process will be friendship among member nations. Strengthening cooperation and awareness in the BIMP-EAGA will only happen if members forget about their own borders and protective instincts and focus on their desire to serve their people well. Within our own countries it is essential that we overcome roadblocks to integration.
To fully unlock the BIMP-EAGA’s potential, we must study our countries’ import and export statistics, as there are many lessons to learn based on these dynamics. We must examine the figures for each country and analyse every single item that is imported or exported to find opportunities for trade. Competitiveness can only be achieved when every member eliminates favouritism with regard to sole rights or distributorships of particular entities. As long as special treatment exists within the BIMP-EAGA, then cooperation will not prevail, companies in these countries will not operate on an even playing field, and discussions about competitiveness or free trade will mean little. Political patronage can impede the liberalisation of trade and investment.
Although the BIMP-EAGA initiative has existed since 1994, it remains largely invisible. There must be concerted efforts to study the block’s assets and undertake the necessary steps to ease the flow of business between member nations. The easier it is for BIMP-EAGA member states to engage in trade with each other, the more visible the block will become and the clearer its benefits can be. For the moment, the BIMP-EAGA has not fully realised its potential; however, an increase in awareness, trade, investments and tourism between member states will make us understand that we all played a role in the problem.
In what ways can the free movement of people and goods be boosted within the BIMP-EAGA?
MOHAMED: When a family’s economic requirements are not fulfilled, the poor start to migrate elsewhere. This creates the phenomenon of overseas foreign workers. This migration, however, has brought with it higher standards and foreign exposure to the Filipino labour force, which has turned the country’s human capital into its biggest asset. The domestic training of a Zamboanga welder is expanded and upgraded as he is taught to weld in Sydney, where a Filipino welder undergoes much more rigorous instruction before he or she can undertake any actual welding. As a result, these workers learn to be more disciplined and skilled in their trade. All this exposure and experience is brought back to the Philippines, which, coupled with more technological input and research and development, allows businesses to be sustainable across all economic sectors. In the past, the Philippines exported raw physical materials. Now it can now export knowledge, talent and expertise. Given the ability of Filipinos to become assimilated within new environments easily, they are best positioned to move around the BIMP-EAGA block seamlessly. Barriers for this mobility arise, however, when countries impose higher levies on migrant workers. It is only when there is a free flow of professional and semi-professional labour that nation-building can occur and high-income status for a nation can be achieved.
Setting a safe operating standard in each of the BIMP-EAGA nations is paramount. The standards of Philippine coastal vessels are currently inferior to those of Malaysia. Therefore, the same vessel that is allowed to travel between Puerto Princesa and Zamboanga does not receive clearance to dock at Kudat. Additionally, the Philippine crew and “safety of life at sea” certifications also need reviewing, otherwise the country will be unable to improve its maritime safety record and reduce the high fatality rate that exists.
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