Monday, September 22, 2003

BIMP-EAGA moving fast to recovery

21 September, 2003

DAVAO CITY: The Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) experienced a long hibernation when Asean countries and the rest of Asia were devastated by the 1997 financial crisis.

But six years after the Asian financial crisis , BIMP-EAGA is again moving on full blast in promoting and strengthening economic cooperation among the four-member countries.

The 11th Senior Officials Meeting of the BIMP-EAGA held here recently revitalised the hope of local traders and tourism industry players in fostering economic ties among their counterparts in the EAGA region.

Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) chair Jesus Dureza said BIMP-EAGA cooperation is beginning to reap the economic gains from several years of economic cooperation among the four-member countries.

“We are in the implementation of projects already. Projects are now ongoing,” Dureza said, adding that it is high time for setting in motion many EAGA projects, which have been long overdue for the Philippines and the other member-countries.

The BIMP-EAGA is a popular acronym since its creation in 1994 by giving Mindanao a niche in the global market. Business missions and trade fairs in and out of the region have forged freer trade policies and bilateral mechanisms were developed which boosted Mindanao’s image as the country’s new trade and tourism front door for the four-member-countries.

When the financial crisis hit Asia in 1977, BIMP-EAGA economic activities lost momentum. Governments of BIMP-EAGA-member-countries imposed belt-tightening measures, cutting off significantly on public sector budget and channelling most of their expenditures on major economic and social concerns afflicting their respective countries, thus, reducing the level of involvement in the BIMP-EAGA.

Changes in leadership at the national level and sub-national level also stalled the BIMP-EAGA. Adding to the vacuum was sluggish private sector participation because they, too, were adversely affected by the financial crises.

MEDCo, the Philippine Secretariat to the BIMP-EAGA reported that incoming trade missions from EAGA- member countries to Mindanao significantly dropped from 1997 to 1999.

Only seven incoming trade missions were conducted during the two-year period compared to the more than 25 trade missions in 1996 alone.

The MEDCo report added that there were only three outgoing missions from Mindanao to EAGA member countries in 1998 compared to the 23 organised in 1997 and 11 in 1996.

It was also the first time that a zero cash sales from various trade fairs, exhibits and expositions was recorded in 1998.

The value of Mindanao Foreign Trade with Indonesia and Malaysia in 1998 was among the lowest between 1995 and 1999. The peak was in 1995 when the value of foreign trade with BIMP-EAGA reached almost US$80 million.

Mindanao exports to the BIMP-EAGA significantly sunk in 1999 compared to the US$55-million generated in 1997 and the US$41.9 million in 2000.

Mindanao imports from the BIMP-EAGA likewise dropped in 1998 compared to the US$81-million and US$70 million in 2000.

Tourists arrivals in Mindanao also plunged in 2000 due to pockets of armed conflicts in the island, stimulating a negative image in the travel market. Tourist arrivals in 1997 reached 146,172 and 157,999 in 1999.

From 1994 to early 2000, hotel room occupancy rate was the lowest in 1999 (46.79 per cent compared to the 56.81 percent in 1994 and 56.69 per cent in 1997.

With Mindanao now as host to BIMP-EAGA-related activities, there is hope that promises made in the past will be fulfilled.

Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Concerns and the country’s Signing Minister Paul G. Dominguez called on EAGA governments to work closer together “to clearly demonstrate renewed and increased support for BIMP-EAGA endeavours to encourage the private sector to keep EAGA in their investment radar scanners.”

He encouraged EAGA member-countries to ensure the sustainability of the economic sub-region to keep the momentum going to spur economic development in Mindanao.

In the MEDCo report, the early successes of the BIMP-EAGA serve as a barometer as manifested by its strong indication of viability and its effectiveness to develop this sub-region.

One of the major reasons for reviving BIMP-EAGA is the opportunity and mechanism for the Muslim entrepreneur to meet their counterparts in EAGA and to participate in private sector undertaking by providing a market exposure.

Medco stressed that BIMP-EAGA serves as catalyst for peace and development in the politically unstable Muslim-dominated areas in Mindanao.

With more participation in the BIMP-EAGA endeavours, “Muslim entrepreneurs in Mindanao may become the engines of growth.” - Oana-PNA

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