CHICAGO (JGL) – Expanding economic cooperation will top the agenda of a rare special US-ASEAN Summit hosted by President Obama in California next month, according to Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr.
In a press briefing with members of the National Press Club of the U.S. in the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 27, Cuisia described the evolution of “regional economic integration” of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) as “slow and steady process that strikes a balance between the high ambition of full integration and the realities of domestic constraints and equally important developmental objectives in the Member States.”
Cuisia looks at the regional cooperation “clearly more complementary today, rather than competition among ASEAN industries. Recent years have seen more trade within industries, belying the skeptics of the 1990s who predicted little impact and benefit from the ASEAN free trade area.”
The Ambassador also told his guests on the outcomes of the recently-concluded 2nd Philippines-US Ministerial Dialogue, the Philippine Supreme Court’s favorable decision on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), and the Philippines’ position and advocacies on the South China Sea issue, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“The Philippines and the United States recognize EDCA as a security component of our treaty alliance. It is especially critical to enhancing joint capacities for the provision of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and to increase the inter-operability of the Philippine and US Armed Forces,” the envoy remarked.
Capacity-building efforts form a significant part of Philippines-US defense cooperation.
“We appreciate the commitment and assistance of the United States towards enhancing our capacity for maritime domain awareness and maritime security,” Ambassador Cuisia said.
The Philippines and China are currently embroiled in a maritime row concerning certain areas in the South China Sea. The dispute led the Philippines to initiate arbitral proceedings under the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea in January 2013.
“Having an impartial third party rule on a case holds weight because one side will have the backing of international law,” the Ambassador explained.
He also expressed support for sustained US Freedom of Navigation operations (FONOPs) in critical sea lanes of communication.
The Ambassador likewise remarked that the key results of the Philippines’ hosting of APEC 2015 are “vital building blocks towards eventually achieving the Bogor Goals for free and open trade and investment in the Asia Pacific region”.
Delving into the Philippines’ keen interest in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Ambassador Cuisia acknowledged the need to ensure that domestic economic reforms and good governance measures should parallel the high standards requirements of the TPP. He said that the Philippines has engaged TPP participants in informal consultations in order to understand what would be required for accession to TPP.
ALLEVIATING POVERTY, TOP PH ELECTION ISSUE
In the ensuing Q&A session, Ambassador Cuisia also fielded questions on Philippines-Japan relations, Philippines-US cooperation in countering terrorism and the good governance program of the Aquino Administration.
“I have to say that the relations between Japan and the Philippines have also never been better. Japan has been very, very supportive of the Philippines,” the envoy said, adding that Japan has consistently been the Philippines’ largest provider of official development assistance and leading trade partner. Japan’s assistance in boosting the Philippines’ defense and security capacities were also cited as proof of the strong ties between the two countries.
On the May 2016 presidential elections, Ambassador Cuisia pointed to poverty as one of the top campaign and election issues. He said that the Philippines must continue with the good governance reforms of the Aquino Administration in order for the country to have a fighting chance in sustaining economic growth and alleviating poverty.
The Ambassador’s briefing was well received by the members of the National Press Club (NPC).
Tyler Crowe, who co-chairs the NPC’s International Correspondents Committee with Congressional Quarterly reporter Rachel Oswald, remarked, “This is our first event of the year. I’ve been to the Embassy of the Philippines a couple of years ago when I first joined the National Press Club. I have always loved coming here because everybody is so nice and I always end up learning a lot. I think 2016 is going to be a good year for our Committee as we plan to have a lot of really interesting and thoughtful panels with a lot of interesting and thoughtful people, and so I’m glad we can start it here.”
“The National Press Club thoroughly enjoys the opportunities to greet Ambassadors from across the world and we really enjoyed the wonderful, educational conversation we had with Ambassador Cuisia,” said Mr. Thomas Burr, President of the National Press Club.
Established in 1908, the National Press Club (NPC) is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. It has over 3,500 members, including journalists from every major news organization.