Address of President Marcos at the 13th Meeting of the ASEAN Economic Ministers

His Excellency Ferdinand E. Marcos
President of the Philippines
At the 13th Meeting of the ASEAN Economic Ministers

[Delivered on May 20, 1982]

Our country has the signal privilege once again of playing the part of host to this regular meeting of the ASEAN Economic Ministers, and I am indeed delighted to extend to all of you on behalf of our people and government our warmest welcome to manila and our best wishes for a most  fruitful conference.

It says something of the strength of our association that important conferences such as this can change venue every year, partaking of the hospitality and variety of the countries of our region, and yet remain singularly focused on one supreme agenda: Cooperation. Whether we meet in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok or Manila, and however unique our capitals are, we come together not as strangers but as a single family. It is in that spirit that we tender you the freedom of our city and our country, and it is with that note that I would like to open your meeting today.

Six years have now passed since we inaugurated in Bali, Indonesia a broad and ambitious program for regional cooperation in our part of Asia, which dramatically transformed the character of our association of Southeast Asian nations and has since riveted the attention of our peoples and governments on the tasks of making regional community possible and real in our part of the world.

In this historic turn in the ASEAN agenda, the ASEAN heads of governments expressly mandated our economic ministers to design, plan and carry out the program of economic cooperation envisioned by the declaration of ASEAN concord.

Looking back upon this aspect of our cooperative endeavors, we can surely say that in six years much has been accomplished to commence and provide direction for economic cooperation in our region. Looking towards the future, none of us is in any doubt that much remains to be done and many challenges and opportunities are before us which must be faced, seized and resolved.

The meetings of our council of economic ministers serve for us as the primary venue whereby our regional community can regularly assess the progress of our labors, and the tasks that we must tackle. So permit me at this point to preface your discussions with some observations relating to your conference agenda, and relating to some of those things which yet need to be done in the sphere of ASEAN economic cooperation.

In trade cooperation, the signal achievement has been the establishment of a preferential trading arrangement. Tariff concessions have been exchanged on some 8, 500 products. Margins of preferences have been raised to between 20 and 25 percent.

During this conference, I understand that you will be considering the further increase of the number of products to be placed under preference. I wish you goodspeed in this endeavor, sharing as I do Prime Minister Lee’s view that in the exchange of tariff preferences we can be bolder.

It is too soon to say how much increase in Intra-ASEAN trade will actually result from these tariff preferences. Perhaps, as some fear, it will not be overly much, since the products placed under preference so far are not the products traded in substantial volumes at the present time.

Even so, it should be said that in these exchanges of tariff preferences, the psychological advance may count for as much as the material gain. For the repetition of the exercise Bi-annually may prove permanently catching and become a habit unattended by the nervousness and over-caution that initially hovered over the exercise.

Let me say further that I see our preferential trade as a way to what I consider our real goal — ASEAN Free Trade. This will not be news to you, since the Philippine Government tabled such a suggestion to this effect in 1980.

If free trade is a goal which commends itself to the other ASEAN member-governments, then we should lose no time in so resolving that it is. Establishing a free trade regime is an enormous undertaking, requiring a great deal of preparation and lead time. If we resolve today to establish it, perhaps we should need all of the next ten years to stage it.

In the meantime, a statement of the clear objective would undoubtedly assist our private sectors in making their individual corporate plans and strategies, and our preferential trade arrangement negotiators in deciding when, where and how deeply to cut tariffs in preparation for a free trade regime.

Cooperation in transportation and shipping is another important area in our program of economic cooperation. May I say that I share President Soeharto’s view that in our endeavors to foster closer economic cooperation, we must pay special attention to transportation and communication. I share too Prime Minister Mahathir’s view that shipping is an area where ASEAN can profitably cooperate to achieve self-reliance in the carriage of ASEAN trade not only to overseas markets but within the ASEAN as well.

It bodes well that the proposal for the establishment of an ASEAN liner service has received approval in principles and that a feasibility study for it has recently been commissioned. May I express the hope that we shall move expeditiously on this important matter when the time comes for implementation.

Early implementation of the ASEAN liner service is a prior condition for giving practical effect to the program of preferential trading arrangements. These thrusts at trade liberalization in ASEAN are likely to be blunted in the absence of a liner service that carries trade regularly from one ASEAN port to another.

In a way, the petroleum emergency sharing arrangement and the food reserve arrangement which the ASEAN has established symbolizes more eloquently than do the other forms of cooperation we have so far undertaken in the spirit of ASEAN fraternity and solidarity. In simple human terms, these arrangements show that member-countries who have more of one commodity are willing to share it with their neighbors in time of distress.

At Caracas, the group of 77 called for the establishment of food reserves for the regions as a measure for preventing famine in times of crop failure. Among the models cited for the proposal was the ASEAN food reserve arrangement.

May I express the hope that the ASEAN will regard this proposal with a positive and helpful attitude, coming as it does from the developing countries, with whom we share a sense of fraternity and solidarity.

In the field of industrial cooperation, significant progress has been achieved on three major activities, namely, the ASEAN Industrial Projects, the ASEAN Industrial Complementation scheme and the ASEAN Industrial Joint Venture scheme.

All the four regional industrial projects — two ammonia-urea projects, one rock salt-soda ash project and one copper fabrication project — have been approved, and all are now in varying stages of implementation.

The first package of the regional complementation scheme, consisting of automotive components, is now in place and initial tariff cuts of 50 percent on these items will be implemented starting this June.

As for the joint venture scheme, I understand that the draft-agreement for it is now before you for consideration. Allow me to stress the importance of this scheme.

Intra-ASEAN investments are at present negligible. Yet investments in one another’s economy is the single most effective way of creating among our private s l sectors real and tangible stakes in our respective country’s development.

For this reason, in finalizing the draft-agreement, we should take care to make the rules as flexible as possible and the treatment of prospective ASEAN members as preferential as possible in order to give the greatest encouragement to Intra-ASEAN investment to the private sector.

The animating idea in a joint venture agreement is to provide a stable and predictable framework for ASEAN private investors to undertake industrial cooperation. In this particular effort, it is crucial for each of us to conciliate our respective interests and avoid imposing these on each other as we collectively pursue the common good of ASEAN. Indeed, given this spirit, there should be no need to resort to the idea of an ASEAN five-minus-one, as we work together for the advancement and common success of ASEAN.

Beyond these industrial cooperation schemes, there remains the need for ASEAN to adopt long-term industrial development planning. It is necessary for us to take a more serious look at each other’s development plans with the end in view of making them complementary rather than competitive. With the same urgency, we must examine in greater detail our relative strengths in terms of resources, technology and skills. I submit that this kind of planning is essential for undertaking industrial cooperation schemes, which after all have for their ultimate aim the support of our respective development efforts.

On ASEAN relations with third countries, we have made some advances by creating the instrument of the ASEAN-third country dialogue, and by presenting a united front in dealing with important global issues.

Yet I must agree with Prime Minister Mahathir that, with respect of ASEAN-third country dialogues, we should give more attention to the substance of these dialogues and that we should focus on areas which are vital to ASEAN interests.

ASEAN should remain ever vigilant against the continuing inroads that protectionism has made in the international marketplace, and against certain economic policies contrived by some developed countries which tend to result in the collapse of commodity prices in the world market. Protectionism along key sectors of the international trade, such as textile and agriculture, engulfs one-third of today’s world trade. It has materially stunted the growth of world trade, which in 1981 amounted to just under 2 trillion U.S. dollars.

I believe that we should maintain the strongest anti-protectionist posture in forthcoming international meetings. I have in mind the Gatt Ministerial meeting in November 1982 and the global negotiations in the U. N. General Assembly at the Cancun Summit last October, in which I participated, impetus was generated for the holding of the global negotiations. The ASEAN should formulate common positions for these two important meetings.

Over the years, the ASEAN has succeeded in emerging as a potent group in world affairs. In fact, it has been observed that in this sense ASEAN is already a political success, even while its various economic initiatives have yet to achieve the same level of fulfillment.

When we look at the full range of proposed schemes covering future ASEAN Economic Cooperation,we become aware at once of a host of schemes on trade and industry, food and agriculture, energy, transportation and communications, banking, tourism and other sectors being actively considered by the concerned ASEAN economic committees.

This is a sign of vital activity. Allow me, however, to make the cautionary observation that these proposals might be rendered ineffective or, worse, might be adopted at cross purposes, if these myriad initiatives are conceived or implemented in isolation on an individual or sectoral basis, rather than on an integrated basis.

To forestall such an eventuality, it might be well to initiate a comprehensive review of ASEAN economic cooperation, with a view to developing more unified and effective ways of conceiving or carrying out cooperative endeavors in the coming years.

Perhaps your meeting here in Manila can begin to look at the possibility of developing a comprehensive framework for cooperation that will link the specific undertakings in each sector with those of the other sectors, and that will unify these initiatives under one single ASEAN purpose.

I have tried to give here an indication of some of the major undertakings still before us. They are a list of my own making. No doubt, there are other major undertakings in the mind of the other ASEAN heads of government. All of these require the kind of fresh impetus which perhaps can be provided only by another ASEAN Summit Conference.

We have not had a summit conference since 1977. We should not underrate the positive role historically played in the development of ASEAN solidarity by ASEAN heads of government meeting together, getting to know and understanding one another better, achieving personal rapport with one another. for this second reason, I say again that it is now time to hold another ASEAN Summit Conference.

At each of the last four meetings of the ASEAN Economic Ministers, the heads of government have respectively called for new initiatives and for closer cooperation. The Prime Minister of Malaysia has called for new ideas in industrial cooperation. The Prime Minister of Singapore has called for a search of greater leeway in formulating and testing out new regional schemes. The president of Indonesia has called for performing the duty that cannot be delayed of solving our economic and development problems. And the Prime Minister of Thailand has called for the willingness to cooperate that is needed more than ever to ensure our common survival.

I join my esteemed colleagues in their calls for new endeavors and greater cooperation. I say, let us press on to the summit, where we should forge the fresh initiatives and the closer cooperation that we all seek.

With fervent hope that our cooperative labors will continue and gather momentum, and all good wishes for your deliberations, I now formally declare open the thirteenth meeting of the ASEAN economic ministers.

Thank you and good day.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

Marcos, F. E. (1982). Speeches by President Ferdinand E. Marcos. [Manila] : Presidential Library.