Tessie Sy on ASEAN integration: Awareness up, IT to lead
SINGAPORE – Awareness about ASEAN integration has increased in recent months, and this is helping the Philippines better prepare for 2015.
In an exclusive interview with Rappler at the sidelines of the Forbes Global CEO Conference here, Tessie Sy-Coson, vice chairperson of SM Investments and Corporation and member of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, said she has observed increasing awareness and interest, largely due to conferences in Manila that have addressed the potentials of a 600-million market that the integration will bring.
“There's more awareness right now on ASEAN integration. That's what we always wanted do as ASEAN BAC members. Instead of looking at it more as something that will just happen, we want awareness that we will slowly integrate and appreciate the synergy of ASEAN integration,” she said.
Her statements are more positive than her previous observations in May when Rappler last spoke to her at the World Economic Forum. Back then, Sy-Coson, dubbed one of Asia's most powerful businesswomen by Forbes Magazine, expressed concern over the minimal awareness exhibited by Philippine companies.
Despite this, the Philippines, she said, is still behind other ASEAN countries when it comes to awareness. Because of this, she said the aggressiveness of the country in terms of moving towards integration is also still sub-par.
“Many of the ASEAN countries are a bit more advanced than us in the Philippines and I guess it will always be good for us to listen to them. But beyond the Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos area, these countries are very aggressive,” she said.
“They want a developed status as soon as possible so with those type of competitions coming from that area, I think it would be good for us to really level up and see how we can take advantage of ASEAN integration on our southern side.”
The mere location of the Philippines, she said, is one reason for the country being behind compared to other Asian countries.
“They are more aware than us in the Philippines because they are part of the continent while the Philippines is outside of the continent so they have more logistics and connections and they have to, but for us here, because we are a group of islands that is outside, we sometimes don't care abut what's happening in the continent,” she said.
Additionally, she said local businesses have many other concerns domestically which has contributed to hindering awareness.
“Its not resistance, it's just that we're so busy domestically that many people don't look beyond the borders. And also because we're an island country, among ourselves with logistics we're already very busy so we don't have time to look beyond,” she said.
“In a way we're a bit insular. But right now with all of these things happening, we have no choice but to look beyond.”
By end of 2015, the ASEAN economic community (AEC), a common market and production base, will take shape in 10 ASEAN member states, including the Philippines.
A joint study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) shows that if done properly, the integration will bring forth freer flow of goods, services, and investment. Skilled labor will impact the region’s economy, including jobs, skills, wages, and labor mobility.
IT industry 'most ready'
Of the Philippine industries, Sy-Coson said she thinks the technology industry is the most prepared for integration. But she also praised other brands like Penshoppe and the International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI) of Enrique Razon as having successfully grown beyond the Philippines.
“I think the IT, the technology side [is most prepared]. I have seen a few, a couple that have received awards in ASEAN. There's a retail store, the Penshoppe group that has gone beyond our border, there's the ICTSI who has been in different countries a long time already and I think they know the ASEAN potential well,” she said.
“In terms of IT or tech, I think that's really the one where we can go across the border faster than other types of businesses.”
She added that the government could do more to help businesses achieve integration quicker, including tapping into the manufacturing base, encouraging the free flow of people and increasing education that the Philippines is part of a bigger regional world.
In an earlier forum, Sy-Coson said the Philippines has received much attention since the administration of President Benigno Aquino III due to good governance. She told Rappler that she is not of the belief however, that the business community will suffer once Aquino steps down from office in 2016.
"I think the awarenss [about the Philippines] is accelerating and I think it will contiue to accelerate. A lot of people see that the Philippines, which has been bypassing them in the past, is now a sweet spot. So I think they see the potential now more than ever regrdless of the adminsitration," she said.
Despite the progress however, Sy-Coson emphasized that the process will be long and continuous.
“I don't know if the integration will happen in 5 or 10 years, it's hard to say. But it will come in stages. Maybe tech will come faster than the other connectivity but I think it will come in part and parcel,” she said.
“Up to 2015, it's more of awareness. Maybe past 2015, most of us will start to realize we have to work towards a bigger market.”
Sy-Coson also warned that without adequate preparedness, some Philippine businesses may suffer from competition when the time for integration comes, but said this is a problem that can be solved through collaboration.
“The world is moving from competition to more collaboration. There are always challenges in whatever mode you take, whether competition or collaboration, but at least we know we are part of a bigger world,” she said.
“That is why Philippine companies need to realize it's not only the Philippines. There are a lot of markets and competition outside.” – Rappler.com