beginning for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. For the first 50 years ASEAN has tread the waters of the region. Recently, it has embarked on a deeper and seemingly dangerous path (if not prepared) of building closer ties and cooperation with global partners.

This is reflected in the ASEAN Vision 2020: “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.” Let us see what becomes of this superpower summit. Will this meeting of great minds with a truly Asian spirit transcend all boundaries, bring us together, create a peaceful and prosperous future for all?

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The hot issue right now is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and their multi-lateral agreements. Yes, it’s all about saving the economy of the countries. And if the TPP doesn’t agree on the pact then we’re doomed. All hell will break lose and China gets it all.

The ASEAN Economic Community must put their act together to achieve high economic growth, increased trade and investments and job opportunities. According to ASEAN: The AEC Blueprint 2025 will lead towards an ASEAN that is more proactive, having had in place the structure and frameworks to operate as an economic community, cultivating its collective identity and strength to engage with the world, responding to new developments, and seizing new opportunities. The new Blueprint will not only ensure that the 10 ASEAN Member States are economically integrated, but are also sustainably and gainfully integrated in the global economy, thus contributing to the goal of shared prosperity. The challenge here lies in every member state’s ability to implement such plans in a corrupt-free, peaceful and resilient environment.

Trade Agreements date back in the 1700s. Many treaties amongst countries have commercial reciprocity with foreign governments wherein the unconditional most-favored- nation treatment has or still is employed. What ASEAN must achieve now is the reduction of excessive trade barriers and the elimination of trade discrimination. This will surely build a foundation of balance and harmony in the region.

Bringing down the existing high tariff duties and making import restrictions less burdensome will permit the flow of desirable good from one country to another. Reciprocal reduction of tariffs and removal of trade barriers promote the sale of each country’s products in the market of the other countries.

Trade disagreement between countries is one of the causes of war. The bigger the country the more weight it has. If a little country irritates big brother then the little one can be thrown out so easily; then, big brother will look for another country.

If small countries rely on big countries, their economy can easily collapse once the big country pulls out or makes it difficult for them to trade by possibly increasing tariff. Big brother can easily reduce tariff for its favored country leaving the other country out there in the cold. Big brother can easily impair the competitive strength of small countries’ products in his market. Thereby, a reduction of trade between countries will happen. This reduction of trade will obviously reduce production, wealth, income and the standard of living.

The ASEAN Free Trade Area consists of ten countries in the Southeast Asia: Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore, Brunei and Cambodia. All have agreed to move goods without paying tariffs, allowing a free flow of trade within the region. It will be interesting to see what will come out of this. Will it make or break the ASEAN? Abangan!

In an article titled, Free Trade Agreement Pros and Cons by Kimberly Amadeo she enumerates six advantages and seven disadvantages to free trade and globalization. The advantages are: (1) increase economic growth; (2) more dynamic business climate; (3) lower government spending; (4) foreign direct investment; (5) global companies have more expertise; (6) local companies will receive access to the latest technologies from their multinational partners. The disadvantages, on the other hand, are: (1) increase job outsourcing – allows companies to hire foreign workers; (2) theft of intellectual property rights – many developing countries don’t have laws to protect patents, inventions and new processes; (3) crowd out domestic industries – farmers lose their farms (aggravates unemployment, crime and poverty) they can’t compete with subsidized agri-businesses; (4) poor working conditions due to outsourcing jobs without labor protection; (5) degradation of natural resources – emerging market countries often don’t have many environmental protections; (6) destruction of native cultures; (7) reduce tax revenue – lost from import tariffs and fees. Amadeo further proposes, “the best solutions are regulations within the agreements that protect against the disadvantages.”

When President Duterte spoke before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) session 7 on “regional economic integration,” in Danang, Vietnam last week, he emphasized that in a changing economic landscape, APEC can only be relevant after 2020 if wealth is distributed by its members equitably to developing nations. “Inclusivity requires that the more developed economies provide greater market access to less developed ones – the same way that we encourage to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).” “The essence of true cooperation is that all are partners and everyone contributes. Charity is not what less developed economies and small businesses need. What they need is greater market access and the opportunity to participate in growth and development,” he added. In conclusion, Duterte reiterated that inclusive growth will continue to elude us unless we adopt this mindset.

Many of the Southeast Asian countries are still in the process of becoming and I think this is what scares the rest of the world. They are buzzing, budding and booming ASEAN economies with great opportunities but they are still weak in systems and structures. How long will it take for them to rise and shine?

As the twenty-one heads of state, heads of government and the UN Secretary General meet in this 31st ASEAN summit to discuss the most pertinent and crucial issues of the day, I appeal to the participants not to forget the unknown citizens who make up the majority of every ASEAN country: the farmer who tills the farm and makes it produce to its utmost capacity because he knows that he will not only provide for his needs but also add to the wealth of the nation; the laborer who undertakes his task to the best of his ability because he knows that he helps in the constructive activities of his country; the teacher who devotes himself to the great objective of his mission with all the strength and fervor of his mind and heart; the obscure employee, the humble worker impelled to exert his best efforts by the inspiring, obsessing thought that he thereby serves his country and people… these are the unknown citizens, the bulwark of nations.

Then and only then can the ASEAN achieve one of its aims that is to accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region.