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AFTA 2015 and Its Impact on Philippine Cooperatives

25 Jan
ASEAN: One Vision, One Identity, One Community

ASEAN: One Vision, One Identity, One Community (image credit: ekonomi.kompasiana.com)  

By now, the ASEAN Free Trade Area (Agreement for some) or AFTA 2015 concept may have hopefully permeated every Filipino’s psyche and consciousness. This is a very important event that everyone must be aware of and understand. Otherwise, its impact and repercussions may hit us like a speeding truck and leave us sprawled on the ground dumbfounded and confused.

For those who may have already forgotten what AFTA 2015 is all about below is a brief description.

The AFTA was signed on January 28, 1992 in Singapore by the ASEAN heads of state and governments. The original signatories include representatives from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam joined in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.

The objective of this agreement is to increase the region’s competitive advantage as a production base with the end goal of penetrating the world market. Also included in the objectives were to encourage more foreign direct investments to the region and to liberalize trade through the elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers among the ASEAN members to 0-5%. This means that the agreement is expecting a fixed period of downward preferential tariff adjustments until those tariffs come down to zero.

Once implemented, this will expand the intra-regional trade allowing the ASEAN consumers wider choice and better quality consumer products.

However, before the plan can be implemented it is imperative that each country of the region must have seamless coordination and integration in terms of common processes and systems. In the field of education for example, among the many reasons why the K+12 Program of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the shift of the tertiary level school calendar were implemented were to synchronize our educational system with the rest of our neighbors. Thus, students can enroll in schools and universities within ASEAN without much hassle and interruption.

The target date of implementation of the agreement will be this year 2015 especially for the six original ASEAN member countries. While for the newer member-countries, the target date of implementation will be by year 2018.

In the cooperative movement where we all belong, there is a growing apprehension especially among the production and agricultural-based cooperatives. It is perceived that this intense competition from the ten ASEAN neighbors will open the doors and allow the entry into the country of cheaper agricultural products. Aside from this, the free flow of other products like electronics, semiconductors, garments among others will imperil our country’s export capacities.

Credit-based cooperatives like our Baguio-Benguet Community Credit Cooperative (BBCCC) might also encounter stiff competition from foreign banks and other financial institutions. War on this front will be waged on better interest rates and other offerings meant to attract customers. The question that bears deep thought is how these local organizations and even co-ops can compete with our ASEAN neighbors that have long practiced better production system and more sustainable business models.

The ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nation is a political and economic organization that was formed on August 8, 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Indeed, AFTA 2015 is now upon us and knocking at our doors. Are we really ready to welcome it?

Cooperativism and Politics

21 Oct

The growing importance and influence of cooperatives in the lives of many people these days can no longer be taken for granted. The cooperative movement is becoming a social force to reckon with especially in the areas of politics and governance. The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), a cooperative union that represents cooperative federations and organizations worldwide, estimates that there are already one billion coop members spread across the globe.

Similarly, the United Nations (UN) assessed that three billion people have benefitted from the movement by providing them with livelihood and thereby improving their economic and social standing in the community (“Cooperative Facts”, 2012). At the practical level, the working class communities are the direct recipients of whatever benefits the cooperative movement may bring to them. The need therefore to protect the gains of the movement becomes necessary and indispensable otherwise many lives will be adversely affected.

Yet, early in its inception cooperatives have a neutral and apolitical stand with regard to the larger society where they operate. Initially, they mainly focus on improving their members’ welfare and think of ways to improve the operational and organizational sustainability of the individual co-operative, nothing more, nothing less. Taking a valiant stand and marching on the streets to protect the movement and its members is not that widespread yet. Although, it can be argued that (taking the Rochdale Pioneers as example) the birth of cooperativism was already a stand against the excesses of capitalism and that can be considered a political position and a statement already.

Assigning a political role to the cooperatives is not a far-fetched idea especially when the coop members/activists are simply trying to protect the movement from certain inequalities. These inequalities can take the form of unjust laws, repressive taxation or policies meant to stifle the growth of the co-operative movement as a whole. Political roles for the cooperatives may also take the form of suggesting framework for reforms that will not only benefit the movement but the whole society as well. There is power in numbers and a good idea.

The economic and developmental aspects are the major challenges cooperatives try to address today and even in the near future. This will require the members to actively pursue in the national and international levels an active voice in policy determination and implementation. This is already an obvious by-product when an individual joins a co-operative and embraces its ideals. Even the current UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recognized this fact when the UN declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives in order to give the movement the attention it deserves and further spread its ideals.

But one not so obvious responsibility of every member and even leaders of the movement is forgetting or wilfully deviating from the original vision and mission statement of the movement in general and the primary cooperatives in particular.

The general membership base and the leaders may become too engrossed and too pre-occupied in watching over the profits of the co-operative or protecting its name that they now come to believe that anything not related to growing the revenue or anything that can tarnish its reputation are a waste of time and resources.

As a political force, cooperatives must not lose sight of its original mandate otherwise it will lose its relevance and significance to the people it is championing. The movement may even end up as not knowing what it is fighting for if the original vision and mission is lost.

Reference:

Co-operative facts and figures (2012), Retrieved January 18, 2013 from http://2012.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-facts-figures

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