Why you should care about ASEAN integration

By Natashya Gutierrez
Published Wed, Apr 26, 2017 8:15 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Imagine that pay raise you've been waiting for. Or perhaps an opportunity to work or study abroad. How about the chance to travel extensively overseas?  

These are the type of possibilities that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integration can make a reality. The Philippines is pouring P15 billion into playing host to ASEAN summits and conferences this year, yet few understand why they should care about these meetings and why ASEAN’s goal to be more integrated should matter to them.

The truth is, a successful and more united ASEAN has concrete effects on us and our lives. Ten Southeast Asian countries – the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – want to improve the lives of their citizens. ASEAN integration makes it quicker to achieve these goals by working together, rather than individually.

What are some of these benefits? Here are 5 ways ASEAN cooperation can benefit you directly.

1. Lower cost of living

The ASEAN Economic Community aims to minimize or negate taxes incurred between countries, which will allow the prices of goods to go down.

“Goods produced domestically may not be the cheapest option for the value you want,” Ronald Mendoza, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, told Rappler on Tuesday, April 25.

“If we open up our borders to trade, this is a possibility for us to lower some of the costs that we are faced with, and in a way, what we’re doing here is increasing the purchasing power of the population.”

This free flow of goods and services means your salary will get you much farther as products become cheaper. You will be able to afford more food or goods.

2. Better jobs and quality of life

ASEAN will also allow you to access products or food or goods not previously available in the country.

As an example, Mendoza narrates that as a little boy, apples were expensive and considered a treat, because they were imported all the way from the United States. Today, “apples in grocery stores are cheaper than our own mangoes,” he said, thank to less trade barriers, making the price go down.

“We can bring in products that don't even grow in the country, which again will elevate the standard of living in the Philippines,” he said. “Food our population wasn't able to eat before, or was only able to consume at a very high price, now we are able to bring in and it is something that is underestimated, in as far as lifting the standard of living of our countrymen.”

Additionally, ASEAN is working on allowing service providers across the region – like air transport and healthcare – to establish companies across borders. For citizens, this means easier access to travel or medical care, which would increase the standard of living.

Another goal of ASEAN is to increase foreign investments by removing restrictions and adopting international best practices. This means enhanced job opportunities for ASEAN citizens as well, and a better quality of life.

“We will have more options, we have more choices,” Mendoza said.

3. Working and studying abroad

Another goal of ASEAN is to facilitate the free flow of skilled labor, which would allow nationals from ASEAN countries to work abroad. It is aiming to facilitate the visas and employment passes for professionals and skilled labor, which aside from increasing productivity, will benefit individuals with new job opportunities. As for the current OFWs, this policy will also ensure more protection for Filipinos already working abroad.

The opportunities to live overseas are not just limited for workers. Even students may have the chance to study abroad. ASEAN universities are enhancing their cooperation which will allow increased mobility for students in the region.

Why is this important?

“Our young people are able to experience going to ancient sites in Myanmar and Cambodia, and going to school in places like Singapore and Indonesia, making friends not just with Filipinos but those of many other nationalities with many other religions, that will hopefully make the next generation a lot more open minded and stronger than this one,” said Mendoza.

“They will be much more capable than ours will ever be because of the limitations of what we grew up with. So this I think is what we’re building here,” he said. “When you open up to something like this, and you have a vision of what that can do especially to your young people, its going to make them a lot stronger. That’s really what we aspire for.”

4. Easier travel

Remember ASEAN’s policy to make it easier for service providers to cross borders? Some of the priorities are improving air travel and tourism, which means it will continue to be cheaper and easier for citizens in the region to fly not just to neighboring countries, but other countries as well.

“There have been many discussions in the tourism industry and [ASEAN] now realizes that the selling point in our part of the world is not really an island by island, or nation by nation experience, but a multi-nation experience,” Mendoza said.

“They can experience several countries, islands, and cities, at rates that are now affordable for a bigger group of people. It’s a generation that will be much. much more empowered in terms of seeing the world in a different way.”

Mendoza also said tourism is “one of those ways we are going to rapidly put together that ASEAN spirit, and that ASEAN sense of common good.”

5. A better Philippines

Finally, with the free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skilled labor, this could only mean a better region – and a better Philippines. The Philippines, and the other Southeast Asian nations, will be able to achieve their goals quicker, and enjoy more success, through cooperation.

“The export of product and services, trade, tourism, the benefits if you visit other countries and you make friends with people you meet there, if young people study in each other’s countries and move across borders – they will form ties that will last maybe their professional careers and in the future,” Mendoza said.

“Who knows? They may be in the opposite ends of a negotiation table crafting our trade policy and maritime policy because they both went to the same school of government here in Ateneo, or school of public policy in Singapore, or the same business school in Malaysia, or they conducted collaborative research in Bangkok.”

He added, “These are the ties that actually bind us beyond pieces of paper and sign treaties. It is people who will build ASEAN.”

Mendoza emphasized the need for citizens of ASEAN countries to understand the value of working towards a common regional good and not just a national good, of caring about what is happening politically, economically, and socially to our neighbors – because it too, will affect us.

“It’s important to see that national good is intertwined with regional good, that we cannot go at this alonem" he said.

"If we do, we will probably not extract the same benefits and success that we would if we were to go for these goals together, cooperating in maritime economy, national security, international trade, promoting poverty reduction, and international competitiveness.” – Rappler.com