By Carmelito Q. Francisco and Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio, June 25 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Business World

DAVAO CITY — Leaders of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) want more active local government participation in identifying opportunities for investments and closer linkages within the sub-region.

The four countries, in a joint press statement at the end of their 13th BIMP-EAGA Leaders’ Summit after the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday, reaffirmed that they “strongly support area-based cooperation in priority points along the economic corridors, which offer the greatest potential for attracting trade, tourism and investment, and which will yield long-term social, environmental and economic benefits.”

“We encourage officials to identify investment needs and opportunities in these areas based on inputs from state and local governments, the private sector and local communities to ensure maximum impact.”

John Carlo B. Tria, executive vice-president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., said while the group’s development seems to have been slow over the last 25 years, the four countries have been working towards harmonizing policies.

“This may be slow, but my opinion is that (trading links) will eventually mature,” Mr. Tria told BusinessWorld in a mobile phone message when sought for comment. “I just hope that the developments in the BIMP-EAGA and the rest of ASEAN will result in more connectivity and trade in Mindanao.”

BIMP-EAGA leaders also emphasized the need for “quality, seamless, multi-modal infrastructure” as this will facilitate movement of goods and people.

“We are greatly pleased with the substantial improvement and expansion of the multi-modal transport network in our sub-region,” they said, citing roads and ports that have improved market access.

The report presented to the leaders during the summit indicates that 16 out of the 69 identified priority infrastructure projects (PIPs) for 2017-2025, with an estimated value of $ 22.7 billion, have been completed.

Last week at the Davao Investment Conference here, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), the agency that represents the Philippines in the sub-regional group, announced the revival of the Davao-General Santos-Bitung shipping route.

In a speech read for him by MinDA Investment Promotion and Public Affairs Office Director Olie B. Dagala, MinDA acting chair Nathaniel D. Dalumpines said there is a need to sustain the route as it “puts premium on Mindanao’s strategic location to the BIMP-EAGA, and the larger ASEAN.”

A new vessel, with a maximum capacity of 200 twenty foot equivalent unit (TEU), is scheduled to arrive in Davao on July 6, about 20 days after leaving Bitung.

The route earlier hit a snag after the first shipping company, which used a vessel with 500 TEU capacity, failed to sustain operations due to lack of cargo load. The route was launched in April 2017 here with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo leading the event.

The four countries also cited the signing of the ASEAN Memorandum of Understanding on the Improvement of Safety Standards and Inspection for Non-Convention Ships within ASEAN Member States and the adoption of the Guidelines for Safety Standards for Non-Convention Ships on Nov. 9 last year, which is seen to help “facilitate and promote cross-border maritime safety, expand maritime trade and improve the sustainability of barter trade.”

They also reported that the 25-year-old group’s economic expansion rate was 5.7% in 2017, valued at $287.3 billion, with merchandise trade clocking 21.5% growth. Foreign and local investments were about $20 billion.

In terms of tourism, about 88.2 million visitors were recorded in 2017, up 6.6% from the previous year.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Mr. Takehiko Nakao, in a statement on Sunday, reaffirmed ADB’s support for BIMP-EAGA as well as the other ASEAN sub-grouping Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT).

“ADB is committed to continuing its support for these subregional programs as a financier, honest broker, provider of knowledge, and a facilitator in leveraging public and private resources for regional investments,” said Mr. Nakao, who attended the BIMP-EAGA Summit.

ADB’s support for BIMP-EAGA includes upgrading of North Kalimantan, Indonesia’s power system, and the enhancement of key road networks in Mindanao, Philippines.

In a separate statement, the ADB quoted BIMP-EAGA Business Council Chairman for Malaysia Datuk Roselan Johor Mohamad saying, “EAGA’s private sector play the crucial role of stirring the sub-region’s business climate.”

ADB’s Jason Rush, who led the bank’s support for BIMP-EAGA cooperation, meanwhile, said “ADB support is making a meaningful difference in BIMP-EAGA.”

“New road projects in Mindanao will help connect isolated communities, and further establish Mindanao as an important gateway for trade and business.” — Carmelito Q. Francisco andReicelene Joy N. Ignacio