Leaders put Bimp-Eaga on path to rapid growth
By Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Malaysian Prime Minister, Dato Seri Abdullah Hj Ahmad Badawi and Philippines President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday discussed on how to intensify cooperation among the Bimp-Eaga member countries in the areas of trade facilitation, transport, tourism, environment, and in social and cultural areas as they met for the Fourth Bimp-Eaga Summit in Singapore yesterday.

His Majesty, who chaired the summit, expressed satisfaction with the encouraging developments within the grouping and welcomed the recent signing of two MoUs under the transportation sector, which will enhance sub-regional connectivity.

His Majesty also welcomed initiatives such as the Heart of Borneo (HOB) and the Sulu-Sulawesi-Marine-Eco (SSME) Region as this reflects Bimp-Eaga's contribution in addressing climate change. In this regard, His Majesty also encouraged member countries to jointly work together in seeking more support and assistance from the international community.

At the end of the summit a detailed Joint Statement was released, which provided the direction towards strong growth for the grouping.

The leaders reiterated the importance of sub-regional economic cooperation in Bimp-Eaga as a strategy for complementing Asean initiatives to achieve the Asean Community by 2015. They were encouraged by the momentum gained in the implementation of cooperation initiatives, but also recognised that Bimp-Eaga continues to face formidable challenges. They agreed to continue enhancing cooperation in the development of the grouping.

The leaders were pleased to note the steady progress of implementation of the Bimp-Eaga Roadmap to Development 2006-2010 and supported the decision of the Bimp-Eaga ministers to conduct a comprehensive Mid-Term Review in 2008 of the roadmap to ensure that the measures and projects being implemented are relevant.

They encouraged all stakeholders especially the private sector and the local governments to actively participate in this review and take this opportunity to clearly identify doable programmes and projects that can generate immediate and direct impact on increasing trade, tourism and investment in the region.

They commended the Transport Ministers on signing the MoU on Cross-Border Movement of Commercial Buses and Coaches and the MoU on Establishing and Promoting Efficient and Integrated Sea Linkages on the sidelines of the 13th Asean Transport Ministers Meeting in Singapore.

They also expressed confidence that these transport initiatives will promote the rapid development of a multimodal transport system in Eaga and facilitate the flow of goods, services, investment and people across borders in the sub-region. The leaders directed their transport ministers to expedite the effective implementation of the transport agreements. They also urged them to undertake specific measures to pilot-test the Asean Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Goods in Transit by 2008.

They supported the transport ministers decision to designate additional airports with full fifth freedom traffic rights under the MoU on Expansion of Air Linkages, namely: (i) Manado and Tarakan, Indonesia; (ii) the Federal Territory of Labuan and Miri, Malaysia; and (iii) Puerto Princesa and General Santos, Philippines. They are encouraged by the increased number of airlines interested to service the Bimp-Eaga points. They directed the transport and tourism ministers to undertake collaborative actions to ensure the sustainability of the current routes and also ensure that more new sub-regional air connections are established in 2008.

The leaders urged their Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security (CIQS) agencies to continue strengthening their cooperation in improving border formalities in the following priority pilot ports and border crossings: (i) General Santos, Philippines - Bitung, Indonesia; (ii) Zamboanga, Philippines - Sandakan, Malaysia; (iii) Muara, Brunei Darussalam - Labuan, Malaysia; and (iv) Entikong, Indonesia - Tebedu, Malaysia.

They noted the conduct of the 1st Heads of Customs meeting and urged the heads of Immigration, Quarantine and Security to organise similar meetings. The heads of the CIQS agencies should streamline and harmonise ports and border formalities in 2008.

They welcomed the launching of the joint promotion and marketing programmes and the successful conduct of the 3rd BIMP-EAGA Travel Exchange in Kuching, Sarawak in November 2007. With the expansion of transport connectivity, they tasked tourism ministers to generate worldwide attention on Bimp-Eaga as a single tourism destination beginning 2008.

The leaders acknowledged that attaining sustainable development and addressing climate change remains one of the biggest challenges of the global community. They commended the signing of the Declaration of the Heart of Borneo Initiative to be the basis for HoB development. They welcomed the progress in the implementation of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion programme and urged relevant agencies to support the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

They directed their officials to adopt the policy that will make the tuna industry realise that they must share the social and ecological costs of taking care of tuna spawning grounds in the Coral Triangle. In preparing the HoB project documents and in implementing the SSME programme, they tasked the relevant ministers to work together to ensure that the local community stands to benefit from the vast economic potential.

They took note that Indonesia will host the UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali in December 2007 and reaffirmed their commitment to environmental sustainability. They agreed that the Conference could elevate these Bimp-Eaga initiatives to the international level.

They endorsed the recommendation by the Bimp-Eaga ministers to adopt the Economic Corridor concept, which will give priority to areas with greater economic activities and connectivity. They shared the optimism that the proposed Bimp-Eaga Economic Corridors will enable the rapid convergence of transport, economic and social initiatives and programmes with the establishment of a network of special economic zones to be worked out by the relevant authorities. They likewise recognised that Bimp-Eaga is in itself an Economic Corridor within the Asean region.

The leaders will continue to support the private sector, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by creating business opportunities that will increase employment particularly in areas like eco-tourism and agro-industry including encouraging the creation of joint venture fishing companies of member countries.

In addition, they will continue to support private sectors and its institutions by improving connectivity, facilitating trade, strengthening industry value chains, and by encouraging the active participation of the local governments in creating opportunities for increased trade, tourism and investment in Bimp-Eaga.

They urged the private sector and its institutions to seize and translate the opportunities created from the new initiatives and also agreed to explore the possibility of setting up a Bimp-Eaga Business Advisory Council (BEBAC).

They welcomed the efforts undertaken to establish sub-regional value chains in the (i) oil palm industry; (ii) seaweeds industry; (iii) tourism; and (iv) halal poultry industry.

This will strengthen coordination of these industries by national and local government institutions to enable them to respond swiftly to private sector requirements.

Recognising the role of the Bimp-Eaga Facilitation Centre (BIMP-FC) in coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the roadmap programmes and projects, they urged their senior officials to expedite its legalisation.

They also reaffirmed their commitment to improve their respective in-country institutions to further strengthen coordination at the sub-regional level.

The leaders noted the expanding collaboration with the Northern Territory of Australia, particularly in human resources development and capacity building.

They urged the Bimp-Eaga senior officials to finalise the Framework of Cooperation with China as Bimp-Eaga's development partner. This will pave the way for further enhancement of trade and investment between Bimp-Eaga and China.

They directed the Asean Secretariat to further strengthen its support to the grouping through various meetings and forums to high-profile Bimp-Eaga with the region's dialogue and development partners, provide advice and guidance in aligning the grouping's development agenda with the Asean Economic Community Initiatives and help mobilise knowledge, technical and financial resources.

They expressed their appreciation to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for its continued confidence in the Bimp-Eaga cooperation initiatives and for its increasing technical and financial support especially in the development of strategic sectors including transport connectivity, energy development, trade facilitation, environment management, and institutional strengthening. They requested ADB to increase its support for private sector development, capacity building of sub-regional institutions including local governments, and in mobilising resources for the implementation of the roadmap.

They thanked the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) for their continued technical and financial support and urged GTZ to continue to support the implementation of the action plans for industry value chains, provide capacity building support for local governments, BIMP-FC and BEBC and assist in pilot-testing of Asean trade facilitation initiatives in Bimp-Eaga.

They also thanked the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) through the East Asean Initiative (EAI) and in partnership with the Asean Secretariat for developing the five (5) pilot projects in Southern Philippines and Eastern Indonesia for the next 18 months. They expect these initiatives to be replicated in other areas in Bimp-Eaga. - Borneo Bulletin (20th Nov 2007)