Interview: Le Luong Minh

As the ASEAN Chair in 2017, how can the Philippines further cooperate with ASEAN countries?

LE LUONG MINH: This year is a very important for ASEAN as it marks the 50th anniversary of its establishment. In this regard, we hope member states will continue to offer their full support to the Philippines in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the organisation and continuing to implement the ASEAN Community integration agenda, including the priority deliverables for 2017.

For the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the priority goals for the Philippines’ ASEAN Chairmanship in 2017 will focus on inclusive and innovation-led growth. These are very much in line with the AEC Blueprint 2025’s focus on a competitive, innovative, dynamic, people-centred ASEAN. A number of the planned deliverables for the 2017 chairmanship year are geared towards providing an enabling environment for micro, small and medium enterprises development, advancing ASEAN’s participation in the digital economy as well as promoting innovation. These initiatives will be supported by the implementation of the Strategic Action Plan for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Development 2016-2025.

In addition, various sector initiatives have been discussed for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) in cooperation with the Philippines. These especially include engaging different stakeholders – including government entities, international NGOs and the private sector – to generate support and aid in developing the country’s priorities along ASCC aims. The end goal is to forge a common identity and build an inclusive society where the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the people is enhanced.

Member states are also working with the Philippines in establishing the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), which was proposed to raise awareness on biodiversity through the “Biodiversity Heroes” project. This project aims to highlight and promote the work of the ASEAN community, in the conservation of the region’s rich biodiversity, and advocates active public participation in conserving desirable levels of plant and animal life.

We have also prioritised critical issues affecting the health and well-being of the ASEAN people such as the response to antimicrobial drug resistance and nutrition security. Promoting the rational use of medicines, consumer empowerment, and strict adherence to health regulations on food and drugs requires the engagement of regional, national and subnational stakeholders and regulatory agencies.

ASEAN member states can build a supportive environment that encourages an approach inclusive of society and government. It is our opinion that member states are committed to extending all necessary assistance and cooperation to ensure success as the Philippines heads the ASEAN chairmanship in 2017.

What still needs to be done to allow businesses to take full advantage of the AEC?

MINH: A notable addition to the AEC Blueprint 2025 is the inclusion of a section on strengthening the role of the private sector – a key stakeholder in the process. Going forward, greater involvement from the private sector in providing feedback and comments on AEC initiatives and more structured participation in ASEAN’s work is encouraged, namely through the coordination of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council.

Another aspect is to improve outreach to businesses on the various commitments, initiatives and facilities that are targeted at benefiting the economic sector. Often, businesses are less aware of developments in the AEC. More efforts are needed at both national and regional levels, not only to increase access to information about the AEC, but to also translate the commitments and contents of ASEAN jargon into more user-friendly and meaningful information for businesses in the region, including by providing direct online facilities that can be accessed by individual firms to better help them take advantage of AEC schemes.