May 17, 2011
By DR. BETH DAY ROMULO
Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp.


MANILA, Philippines — The recent four-day summit meeting of the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) hosted by Indonesia in Jakarta on May 6-9 predictably drew limited coverage from the international press.
Stories that did appear headlined the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, as if that was all that happened, ignoring the important discussions and agreements made on the soaring prices of food, energy security, worker protection, and free trade in the region.
Since 25% of seafarers in the world are Filipinos, the Philippines also raised the issue of piracy in regional waters.
President Aquino attended the ASEAN summit meeting with a 54-member delegation which included Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Energy Secretary Jose Almendras, and Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo.


On his return from the summit, President Aquino, speaking on arrival at the airport, reported that the leaders of the ASEAN countries “recognized the truth that the problem of one was the problem of all” and that “solutions could be arrived at if they all helped each other.”
He said ASEAN leaders shared this country’s concern for overseas Filipino workers, and noted that the Philippines, which formerly benefited from the help of its neighbors, now is being recognized as a nation that can provide help. Both Cambodia and Laos wish to increase trade with the Philippines and Thailand is interested in the public/private partnership projects for investment.
Fortunately for the region, the European Union (EU), whose 500 million consumers make it the world’s largest single market, takes ASEAN seriously. Karel Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, in an op-ed article which was carried in the local press, wrote that ASEAN’s trade with Europe makes it a “driver of the world economy.”
Today bilateral trade agreements are being negotiated between the EU and Singapore and Malaysia, and agreements with the other members of ASEAN with the EU are expected to follow. These individual bilateral agreements will eventually form the foundation for a comprehensive regional trade agreement between the EU and the ASEAN countries.
The ASEAN-EU Business summit is tasked with identifying barriers to trade and providing a forum to discuss how those barriers can be overcome.
ASEAN’s major importance over the years has been to get regional leaders to talk together and resolve disputes amicably to avoid conflict among the countries of Southeast Asia.

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