The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will hold its annual and 26th Summit this coming April 24-27, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Presidents and Prime Ministers of the 10-member countries will go there for their official signing of agreements and ceremonial group photos. The heads of six observer countries in the ASEAN + 6, namely Japan, China, S. Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, also go there, usually on the last day of the summit.
Before the ASEAN Summit, there is also a big gathering of leaders of different NGOs in the region, the ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) and ASEAN People’s Forum (APF), April 22-24, 2015.
Our partner think tank in KL, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), is the organizing members of ACSC/APF 2015. Somehow it is the odd-man-out in the room because ACSC is anti-market, anti-liberalization and pro-forced equality coalition. In its CSO Statement, it declares under 1. Preamble:
1.3 The failure of ASEAN to meaningfully address the people’s issues is deeply rooted in the organisation’s continued adherence to a neo-liberal model that prioritizes corporate interests and elite groups, including state-owned enterprises, over the interests of the people. Our engagement with the ASEAN process is therefore anchored on a critique and rejection of deregulation, privatisation, government and corporate-led trade and investment policies that breed greater inequalities, accelerate marginalization and exploitation, and inhibit peace, democracy, development, and social progress in the region.
And under 2, Regional Priorities,
2.1.1 ASEAN’s development model for regional integration, and the unequal trade and investment agreements negotiated and agreed to by member states fail to guarantee redistributive, economic, gender, social and environmental justice, or accountability. They result in further inequality, lack of social protection, denial of basic information and communications infrastructure, environmental degradation, adverse impacts of climate change, and the systematic dispossession of the people’s access to land, water, safe and nutritious food, and other resources. Large-scale mining and other extractive projects; the expansion of corporate agriculture (including promotion of genetically modified organisms); corporate and commercial fisheries; and intensified aquaculture continue to violate rights of local communities in ASEAN.
I wanted to attend the ACSC and hope to engage in face to face discussion and civil debates some leaders and participants. They announced that they will give travel scholarships to 50 non-Malaysian NGO leaders in the region. Knowing the ideological leaning of the conference leaders, I still applied for the scholarship, no harm in trying. I was not lucky enough to be selected. Fine, I assume that they prioritized their fellow anti-market, anti-liberalization CSO buddies in the region.
In the application form, aside from the usual basic info to fill up, they asked three questions:
1. Please provide a description of your or your organization’s interest and work on Southeast Asia and ASEAN (not more than 500 words).
2. Please explain why it is important for you to participate the ACSC/APF 2015 (not more than 500 words).
3. Please explain what you will do to share what you have learned at the ACSC/APF 2015 to civil society after you return to your country (not more than 200 words).
I am posting my answer to #1, written and submitted last March 25:
First, I do some rounds of university talks as a guest lecturer about the region. In December 2014, I spoke at De La Salle University (DLSU) Manila on Trade, David Ricardo, CPE, FPE and Consumer Surplus; January 2015 at Ateneo de Manila University (AdeMU) on ASEAN and the challenge of unilateral trade liberalization. This March, I spoke at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE) on ASEAN taxes and Philippine fiscal incentives.
Second, some organizations invite me to do a summary of important fora. Last February 2015, I prepared a synthesis of discussion on ASEAN Integration Forum organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) Muntinlupa Chapter.
Third, I write for a Jakarta-based new monthly magazine, ASEAN Voices. My article for January 2015 issue was about Philippine multinational companies in the ASEAN.
Fourth, I also write for one of the biggest online publications in Manila, interaksyon.com, under the column, “Fat-Free Economics.” My last article was about 2014’s biggest global economic news in 10 charts.
Fifth, a monthly magazine in Kathmandu, Nepal, Business 360, publishes my opinion articles. Among my papers there last year was Trade and Development in Asia.
Sixth, I am a member of the Philippine Economic Society (PES) and I discuss with fellow economists some regional and global issues. I wrote about one paper presented at the PES conference last year, on ASEAN-China trade and investment relations.
Seventh, some academic friends in other universities invite me for future classroom talks. Like the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City and University of Asia and the Pacific (UAP) here in Manila, aside from the three Manila universities (DLSU, AdeMU, UP) that I mentioned above.
All the papers that I wrote and mentioned are for free market, free trade, limited government advocacy. I am sure the organizers did not like them, 180 degrees opposed to their “CSO Statement”. Not feeling bad that I was not selected.
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is about integration + coordination + competition of the 10 member-countries in various industries. Greater and freer mobility of commodities and people/services among the 10 countries is the cornerstone of the AEC. ACSC/APF leaders want to oppose this. If I have the chance to see and meet them in future ACSC/APF, say in Manila, I will debate them. In a civilized, no ad hominem way of discussion and debate, of course.