Focusing on economic diplomacy

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

| Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

It’s been an extremely busy week for us in Washington, DC, as we prepare to host the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue with the United States in Manila.

Last Thursday, I was invited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies senior vice president Victor Cha to deliver the keynote speech for the annual forecasting conference of the CSIS on the challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region. The discussions featured experts and scholars from, and with me in the panel were Kurt Campbell, White House Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs of the National Security Council, and South Korean Ambassador to the US Taeyong Cho with CSIS senior fellow and Japan chair and deputy director for Asia Nicholas Szechenyi as moderator.

There are so many developments in the Indo-Pacific region today, but one does not really need to gaze into a crystal ball to predict what could happen in the foreseeable future, particularly in our part of the world in Southeast Asia, especially since we are cognizant of the realities we face. The challenge simply is for all stakeholders to work together in dealing with these realities in a manner that would redound to the economic benefit of all our peoples.

Like any other nation, the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including the Philippines, are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, with their respective economies still experiencing the negative impact of the pandemic on many aspects, including the health and livelihood of the people.

To fully surmount the challenges and keep the momentum of economic recovery going, the region needs to double down on economic activities and ramp up investments in a wide array of industries and sectors.

The Philippines has been forthright in stating what we need, not just from the United States but from our other partners as well. And what we need is to work with major developed countries to get over the slump and completely recover – not through aid, but through increased trade and investments.

For all of us, it is very clear that our number one priority at this time is to see to it that our economy not only rebounds but grows at levels that are even higher than before the pandemic. And if we are to significantly and meaningfully contribute to global economic growth, we must do our part to ensure that the economic health of the Southeast Asian region remains healthy and robust.

While some forecasts indicate that the global economy will slow down this year due to the effects of geopolitical issues, growth is expected to expand in our region. I am convinced that this will help buoy the global economy. In addition, being competitive will help thwart any form of coercion – which is why we also welcome the establishment of the ASEAN-US Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the renewed interest and commitment of the United States to expand economic cooperation with ASEAN as a whole and with key bilateral partners, starting with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity or IPEF that was launched last year.

“Economic prosperity for the ASEAN region and the Philippines is crucial for economic security. That is why aside from the United States, we are reaching out to countries like China – currently the Philippines’ most significant trade partner – that can help us achieve our economic objectives. How we deal with China is always based on what will be best for our country’s interests.”

Certainly, we welcome the Biden administration’s efforts to revitalize economic activities between the US and the region – absent of a Free Trade Agreement – through the IPEF. Although negotiations are still in the early stages, we are determined to get to an outcome that will ultimately lead to massive outflows from the US in terms of investments, job generation, technological assistance, best practices, and standards.

Let me point out that a strong clamor exists among companies – both from the region and in the US – for an FTA. Given the proliferation of regional trade agreements, it is high time the US seriously explored this possibility. Otherwise, it risks getting left behind by other countries already engaged in preferential trade agreements with the region.

To say that American companies have massive opportunities to do business in the region is an understatement. ASEAN is definitely open for business – whether as part of the global supply chain, engaging in e-commerce and the digital economy, or working together on sustainable infrastructure that will benefit both the region and the rest of the world.

Economic prosperity for the ASEAN region and the Philippines is crucial for economic security. That is why aside from the United States, we are reaching out to countries like China – currently the Philippines’ most significant trade partner – that can help us achieve our economic objectives. How we deal with China is always based on what will be best for our country’s interests.

As we have all seen, what is happening in Ukraine can impact even the farthest country in the world. Considering the intense competition between the two superpowers – the United States and China – we are hopeful that the lessons from the war in Ukraine will make nations realize the folly of trying to take over another country. Any attempt at such will not succeed because like-minded nations would never allow that to happen. In the end, everyone loses, which is why we are hoping and praying that the situation does not escalate any further and will be resolved sooner rather than later.

What it all boils down to is this: each country wants to ensure economic prosperity and security – a clear direction the Marcos administration is taking today – because when all is said and done, we will only do what is best for our national interest and will remain focused on our economic diplomacy to achieve peace and security.

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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