At the heart of 5th ASEAN-EU Business Summit held last March 10, 2016 in Manila is to increase in investments and market penetration. During the summit, there was an air of optimism that ASEAN member economies will continue to grow and be a place for market expansion. Today, EU is ASEAN’s 2nd largest trading partner while ASEAN is EU’s 3rd largest trading partner.
The concentration of the summit was on areas for growth and development particularly on insurance, finance and automotive industries as well as trade measures or barriers, corporate social responsibility and marketing ASEAN to its citizens. The consensus among the panelists is there is a need for identical policies, laws, and measures across the region on trade and business. This however is a challenge to ASEAN member states since markets are not homogenous.
H.E. Francisco Fontan, the EU Ambassador to ASEAN was quite optimistic about the future of ASEAN. He could see the progress of ASEAN as a feat considering the diversity and differences of culture of the members. The process he said might not be perfect, but the remarkable thing about the bloc is the willingness of the members to engage in dialogue. As for the future of ASEAN and EU relationship, the hope is for a Free Trade Agreement by bloc to improve the partnership between the two.
Meanwhile, for common Filipinos engaged in business, the EU-ASEAN partnership or the Philippines’ membership in the ASEAN remains a concept far from actuality. According to Joey Concepion of the ASEAN BAC/Go Negosyo, ninety-nine percent (99%) of the businesses are considered as micro, small and medium enterprises and their focus is survival and not growth. The challenge he stated is to shift their mindset to recognize the Philippines’ membership in the ASEAN as an opportunity to widen markets.