Experts gather to discuss ASEAN economic integration in SEARCA- and ATMI-ASEAN-funded regional event

  • 11 December 2019, Wednesday

Experts gather to discuss ASEAN economic integration in SEARCA- and ATMI-ASEAN-funded regional event

BANGKOK, Thailand – The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-funded project "Agricultural Transformation and Market Integration in the ASEAN Region: Responding to Food Security Concerns", or ATMI-ASEAN, organized the Regional Workshop cum Roundtable Discussion on ASEAN Economic Integration on 28-29 November 2019 at Novotel Bangkok Platinum Pratunam.

ATMI-ASEAN is being implemented by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) as lead, and SEARCA as partner. ATMI-ASEAN Project objectives are aimed at supporting the ASEAN and its member states through designing policies and programs that are expected to enhance the enabling environment for investment in regional value chains, thereby contributing to food security and inclusive development. Dr. Fabrizio Bresciani, Lead Regional Economist of the Asia and Pacific Division of IFAD, has considered the understanding of how the impetuous process of market integration will impact the transformation of the farm-households and their ability to emerge out of poverty as the broader challenge of the project. He expressed the need to go beyond the research work that the project has accomplished so far, and start engaging more closely with policymakers, to which the roles of the ASEAN Secretariat, civil society organizations, and regional institutions will be of key importance.

This ATMI project workshop cum roundtable discussion focused on two key areas. The first area was on the domestic agricultural marketing systems, and intra- and extra-ASEAN international trade, particularly on the project's five targeted AMS namely, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam. In his welcome message, Dr. Pedcris M. Orencio, Program Head for Research and Development, and ATMI-ASEAN's Principal Investigator for SEARCA, regard the activity as an opportunity to bring forward the discussion towards charting sustainable development in view of the integrated ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The AEC has contributed in terms of facilitating trade and policy development in support of increasing the competitiveness and efficiency of the targeted ASEAN Member States (AMS).

The second area was on the outputs and findings of researches conducted by IFPRI and other institutions that can provide insights on the factors and drivers of transformations and growth in the AMS. Prior this, Dr. Devesh Roy, Senior Research Fellow of IFPRI, shared the ATMI-ASEAN Project, with emphasis on the three project components - (a) policy studies and expert workshops, (b) high-level policy forum and roundtables, and (c) technical assistance for planning and policy development. He emphasized the need to keep in mind what the project is expected to leave behind as it moves forward with its implementation, including a book on ATMI-ASEAN to be published as the final output of the project, and the proposed Network of Policy Advisors and Analysts in the ASEAN Region (NePAAA).

Dr. Hiroyuki Takeshima, Senior Research Fellow of IFPRI, and Dr. Roy, presented IFPRI studies titled, "Agricultural transformation, market integration, and smallholders in Southeast Asia: Regional overview and some micro-evidence from Vietnam" and "A Tale of Two Headmost Asian Trading Blocs: Assessing Food Trade of ASEAN and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)", respectively.

Representatives from the research teams that conducted the national-level policy studies provided an overview of the agricultural marketing systems in their respective countries and chosen priority commodities – maize for Cambodia and Lao PDR, pulses for Myanmar, pork-based processed products for the Philippines, and pig for Vietnam. Speakers included Mr. Sorn Vichet of the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA), Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Cambodia; Dr. Phonevilay Sinavong of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), Lao PDR; Ms. Nang Seng Pin of the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD), Myanmar; Mr. Christian Paul L. Fang of the College of Economics and Management (CEM), University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), and; Ms. Bui Thi Viet Anh of the Center for Agricultural Policy (CAP), Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD), Vietnam.

These were followed by experts sharing their insights on the foreign direct investments, responsible investment in food, agriculture and forestry, both in the national and regional levels, and harmonized policies affecting food standards and security among the AMS. Dr. Muhammad Firdaus of Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB), Indonesia; Dr. Nolila Mohd Nawi of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM); Ms. Maria Esperanza F. Alconcel, an independent consultant and international trade expert based in Singapore; Dr. Isriya N. Bunyasiri of Kasetsart University, Thailand, and; Dr. Shih-Hsun Hsu of National Taiwan University (NTU), presented the existing trade policies and standards of their respective countries.

Towards the last session, Ms. Alconcel presented Singapore's foreign direct investments. Ms. Erin Sweeney of Grow Asia and Ms. Maria Elena V. Rebagay of the Asian Farmers' Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) shared the perspectives of the private sector and farmers' organizations, respectively, on the ASEAN Guidelines on Promoting Responsible Investment in Food, Agriculture and Forestry. This was followed by a roundtable discussion on the design and methodology of regional-level technical assistance of the ATMI-ASEAN Project and recommendations for the high-level policy forum to be organized in 2020. Mr. Jimmy B. Williams, ATMI-ASEAN Project Support Unit (PSU) Coordinator, briefly summarized the key takeaways from the two-day workshop for the 2nd Regional Project Steering Committee (RPSC) Meeting of the ATMI-ASEAN Project, which was held the following day.

Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, closed the event with a realization for the participants on the important role that agriculture plays in driving overall regional development and in transforming the ASEAN region into a single economic force in global agricultural trade. He added that developing countries, such as those covered by the ATMI Project, stand to benefit from this integration considering significant contributions of agriculture in domestic income, trade, and employment.

It was also a good opportunity for the Director to share the focus of SEARCA's 11th five-year plan, which is to strengthen academe-industry-government interconnectivity and bring forward agricultural innovations and market-driven agribusiness development in the Southeast Asian region. This Plan will serve as the guide for the Center's continued engagement with governments, educational institutions, and international and regional donors and development organizations, as it initiates collective action towards improving agricultural and rural development in the region.