10 April 2017 | Tokyo, Japan

The ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) led by Chair and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez (right) met recently (6 April) with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (center) and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Minister Hiroshige Seko (left) during the AEM Roadshow in Japan to discuss the initiatives of ASEAN, Philippines, and Japan to stimulate continuing globalization and freer trade by limiting protectionism in fiscal policies.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary and 2017 ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) chair Ramon Lopez reported that the Philippines successfully advanced ASEAN’s objective to engage Japan on innovation, the inclusivity of the region’s micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) during the AEM Roadshow to Japan from 6 to 8 April 2017.

The ASEAN Delegation with ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh held a substantive discussion with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Minister Hiroshige Seko of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and key local government officials to discuss measures to enhance ASEAN-Japan economic relations.

The Delegation also met with the Parliamentary Association for the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and some economic organizations such as the ASEAN–Japan Business Council and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council.

MSME development

“We learned how Japanese start-ups make an impact on the economy through their innovative and creative ideas,” said Sec. Lopez, whose thrust at the domestic front is to empower MSMEs through an innovation-led, productivity-oriented framework.

The Delegation traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Wakayama and gathered insights on how Japan managed to gain its stature as a global leader for innovation. Specific sites visited were Hitachi Ltd., Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), Panasonic Konosuke Matsushita Museum and Shima Seiki Manufacturing Ltd.

The Delegation also met Osaka Governor Ichirō Matsui and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura. The Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City governments have been long partners with Philippine government agencies in promoting investments of their small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Philippines. Osaka City has become Manila’s Business Partner City since October 1989. On the other hand, Osaka Prefecture is the first prefecture to sign an investment promotion Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) in January 2016.

In September 2017, Osaka City will organize a business matching event between Japanese and the Filipino SMEs in automotive and aerospace parts manufacturing and electronics contract manufacturing.

Sec. Lopez also shared that parallel endeavors from ASEAN and Japanese business communities to create lasting partnerships with MSMEs were observed during the business matching event held on 7 April, on the sidelines of the 2017 AEM Roadshow.

Also on the sidelines, the ASEAN-Japan Trade and Industry Ministers reaffirmed commitment to strengthen economic and industrial cooperation, in line with the ASEAN-Japan Strategic Economic Cooperation Roadmap.

“Included in the cooperation is to connect ASEAN SMEs with the global value chain, where SMEs will be supported thru capacity building, networking and business matching and enabling of new industries and start-ups,” Sec. Lopez said.

Innovation, regional economic partnership

During an informal AEM–METI consultations, the Delegation discussed ASEAN-Japan economic relations, in particular the ongoing RCEP negotiations. Sec. Lopez reiterated that with RCEP, the current ASEAN market of 600 million could expand to more than 3 billion, thus representing a huge integrated market base. ASEAN is committed to work with Japan and other RCEP participating countries to come up with a modern, comprehensive, high quality, and mutually beneficial agreement.

Meanwhile, ASEAN-Japan Trade and Industry Ministers agreed to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, creating new industries, as well as social agenda on mobility, energy and healthcare thru cutting-edge technology. Business collaborations started with the launch of ASEAN-Japan Innovation network, according to the trade chief.

The Ministers welcomed the proposal of Philippines to organize regular ASEAN-Japan Trade Fair to promote the best of products in the region and the respective branding as well.

On RCEP, the Ministers also considered the possibility of having phased agreement or a building-block approach, completing areas on trade in goods and services, rules of origin, trade facilitation and intellectual property rights.

“RCEP aims to be inclusive and innovation-led since it will include provisions that will support MSME development, e-commerce, human resource and capacity building, education, trade, finance, business matching, technical cooperation and market promotion and safety nets. A special study is being conducted to find ways to reduce non-tariff measures and remaining trade barriers,” he added.

PH’s ASEAN chairmanship

With the Philippines taking chairmanship of ASEAN 2017, the theme is focused on “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.” The Economic Ministers are promoting “inclusive, innovation-led growth” for shared prosperity in the region in relation to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

The three strategic measures to achieve this theme include increasing trade and investment, integrating MSMEs in the global value chains and developing an innovation-driven economy.

On behalf of ASEAN Economic Ministers, Sec. Lopez thanked the Japanese Government for the successful implementation of the Roadshow.

He also looked forward to welcoming Minister Seko in Manila in September for the AEM-METI Consultations and Prime Minister Abe in November for the ASEAN-Japan Summit.

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