ASEAN members Philippines and Thailand are two of the worlds top canned tuna producers. Pic: Edwin Espejo.

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Businessmen from all over Mindanao are seeking clear cut government policies on five major agenda as the country prepares for economic integration under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

High in their list of concerns are human resources, agriculture and power supply

Some 1,200 business from all over Mindanao will gather in General Santos City on September 1-3 for the 23rd Annual Mindanao Business Conference to tackle major issues they will face when the country is integrated into the AEC next year.

The AEC is looking to create a “single market economy with free movement of goods, services and investments throughout the 10-member nations of ASEAN”.

Members of ASEAN are Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma) and the Philippines.

Enhancing competitiveness

The business community said the government must give priority to research and development and improve the quality of education to be at par with other ASEAN member states.

It added that the “educational system in the Philippines is not competitive with the rest of the ASEAN member countries and want to include topics on the region in the curriculum.”

Also in the agenda for the business confab is the current state of the canning and manufacturing sector in the island.

Canning industry

Mindanao is home to two major fish canning industries, particularly in General Santos for tuna and Zamboanga for sardines.

Documents obtained from conferences sources said Mindanao businessmen find weak support from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in further developing the Philippine canning sector “specifically on policy of limiting catches of fishes that are acceptable for canning.”

BFAR, it said, “will need to fast track research on certain fish species which are identified as non-cannable.”

The Philippines faces stiff competition, particularly in the canned tuna export and tuna production industries, as Thailand remains Asia’s top canned tuna producer while Vietnam is rapidly progressing as one of the biggest tuna catchers in the region.

The Philippines is the world’s 2nd biggest producer of canned tuna products and is also globally the 7th largest tuna producer while ranking 11th among the world’s fishing countries. Thailand however is globally ranked 1st in canned tuna production.

Infrastructure

Rey Billena, conference director and of the host General Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also said there is a need to improve seaports and airports throughout Mindanao.

“We just came in from Manado in Indonesia.  Twenty years ago, the airport there was like an airstrip.  Now it is better than most of our airports in Mindanao,” Billena reported.

The Mindanao business group likewise encouraged the government to open up more flights connecting Mindanao to other cities in the ASEAN region. Specifically, it pushed for the re-opening of Zamboanga-Malaysia air route.

More importantly, the conference wants the government to immediately address the power supply problem in Mindanao.

As of Wednesday August 20, Mindanao only has a reserve capacity of 23 megawatts (MW), way below the industry requirement of 13 percent (or 174 MW) of the island’s current available capacity of 1,344 megawatts.

Other agendas

Also included in the agenda is governance and promotion of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Business leaders here said the government should provide easy financing schemes for MSMEs and look into existing “tedious application process and heavy collateral requirements.”

Likewise, the conference will likewise ask government agencies to expedite business processes “especially on industries that deals with exporting goods to the ASENA market.”

Some 1,200 participants are expected to attend the annual Mindanao business gathering.

Billena said they have expanded the participation to include professionals and members of the academic community.

He said they also invited delegates from neighboring ASEAN countries, including trading partners China, India, South Korea, United States of America, Australia, and New Zealand.

President Benigno Aquno III has been slated as guest speaker but organizers said Malacañang is yet to confirm his attendance.