Jamie Augusto Zobel Ayala
People to People Links
Looking beyond today’s achievements
Current rules which are being implemented are big achievements in themselves, he said. “If we can then create a sense of commonalities, sense of heritage, and a sense that the market is shared and fix all the elements from the structural point of view, infrastructure point of view, rules point of view that allow that free flow of people and goods to take place; then we are creating an environment that is necessary for our economies to rise”.
Ayala is a firm believer that through friendship and trust, awareness and transactions begin to take place. “Governments, I believe, can only do so much; they can be catalyst for movement in the region. But I think it has to be businessmen that begin to invest in each other’s countries and create momentum around our markets”, he pointed out.
Ease of travel
“It would be lovely to have a common set of standards and ideally maybe some sort of joint visas that allow people to travel around the ASEAN countries”, he said. “I think ultimately people must feel that as they come into ASEAN, that it is almost a seamless entry from one country into another”, he added.
Extracts from the Q&A session
CARI: I would like to begin by asking you very generally, your view of this project of ASEAN Economic Community. It is a vast project with a timeline and we are just 3 years, really, to the deadline. How relevant is it to businesses particularly from your perspective in running a large conglomerate?
Jaime Zobel de Ayala: Well frankly, I always felt that I’ve been always very supportive to begin with. I always believe that ASEAN is an important initiative and has not been taken seriously as it should be in the country. In the countries in question, you know, we’ve had a tremendous amount of interest obviously in foreign investment going into China and India, in particular. And I have always felt that the independent Southeast Asian nations and particularly the nations around ASEAN have to find some way to create a momentum around themselves in order to be relevant. I guess in this global environment where capital has been moving much more aggressively into other countries, in particular China and India. And so, I’ve always welcomed it, ASEAN as an institution as a set of countries has already began to formalize a set of rules. I don’t think in each of our countries, businessmen are really fully aware of the plan or action, the lowering of barriers and all the implications that the ASEAN type of unity will result in. I think awareness should be made and should be raised and there should be a lot more momentum around the countries in ASEAN beginning to create distinct identify for themselves. And the environment from a business point of view that is friendly towards each other and builds momentum on what we can create in this group of nation. Bottom line, I’m very supportive of an initiative like the one that is taking place now of bringing business groups, I guess, around the ASEAN region together.
CARI: I see. You mention awareness as an issue. I hope we get the time to talk about what might be done to raise awareness. But aside from that, do you think there is sometimes a credibility issue as well alongside.
Jaime Zobel de Ayala: Well, the credibility issue might be there only because it is not so easy to gather this big group of nations, different religion, different cultural norms, and different histories to come together around the common cause. I’m not advocating anything like the European Union, anything like that. But I do believe that if we can brand ourselves as a distinct grouping of countries and find the set of economic rules that begin to bind us together and make it easy for us to invest with each other. You start to create a sense of a, maybe, common market, maybe it is a wrong word but a sense of an entity that is distinct from everything else in Asia. And I think that can only be of great help to all of us. I think we all have to fight to be relevant in this global environment. Independently, as countries we will each have our different pace of development and each we have our own populations, different markets. There is no doubt in mind that we are seen as a grouping of countries and if we can brand that correctly, we can create awareness at a higher level. Then, I think we begin to attract attention in a far different way to what each of us can do as independent countries.
CARI:Do you have any thoughts on what might be the minimal degree or the optimal degree of integration, togetherness in this respect, so that it qualifies for what you are talking about?
Jaime Zobel de Ayala: Well, I think that the current rules that are beginning to take place which is a sort of trade and tariff re-environment by a certain stage, it’s already a big achievement. I think the free flow of goods and services; the free flow of people is already a major hurdle that has been passed. I think that alone is already achieving a lot.
If we can then create a sense of commonalities, sense of heritage, and a sense that the market is shared and fix all the elements from the structural point of view, infrastructure point of view, rules point of view that allow that free flow of people and goods to take place; then we are creating an environment that is necessary for our economies to rise. If I go back in time, I think that was beginning to take place at an informal level back in the mid 1990s, 97 of course we had the Asian Financial Crisis, and then we all retreated back to our home countries and really had not sort of began to bond together again since then.
And so, I think a lot of work has to be done again to create, I guess, the spirit of commonality, that’s not so easy. Obviously the challenges are high because we all have such different histories and different cultures. But if we can create that sense of commonality in the sense that we can all win from this together and I think it can be a very exciting proposition.
CARI:You are a leading member of the ASEAN Business Club, a new venture, which is about to launch today. So clearly, you have a view on how business in particular and leading business people could contribute to this process. What do you think they could do apart from sort of networking, clearly they intend to do to that and build better personal links between them. What are some of the things they could do or advocate?
Jaime Zobel de Ayala: Well, I think building personal links is a much more important step than people realize. It’s through friendship and trust, that awareness and transactions begin to take place. I am a very big believer in the part of business to be transformative in our region. Governments, I believe, can only do so much; they can be catalyst for movement in the region.
But I think it has to be businessmen that begin to invest in each other’s countries and create momentum around our markets. So, it is very important that we get to know each other, build trust with each other, understand where the opportunity is laid and a lot of that has to take place both at an informal level and at a formal level. And so, gatherings like this, where you actually specifically invite ASEAN businessmen of some standing to the table and have a forum for discussion will naturally create the kind of bonds that are necessary, that I think naturally will lead to business opportunities in the future.
I don’t think one has to be very heavy-handed about these things. One doesn’t need to be very formal. Generally, people who had been successful in business in each of the ASEAN countries will be entrepreneurial by nature. They will spot opportunities; just creating a solid regular form for them to come together, I think is already a very big achievement and a positive one. Now if we can structure around that, some themes of discussion that can lead to identifying commonalities, opportunities and building trust. Then you really are creating an environment that will be conducive to an ASEAN that will continue to be stronger.
CARI: Thank you. Moving on to look at the Philippines. You have economy on the move again. What do you think of the Philippine’s role within ASEAN? Now, is it like before or is there some sense of distinct role for the Philippines in the kind of economic community?
Jaime Zobel de Ayala: Well, I think each country has its strengths. I think we’ve generally a population of roughly 95 million now. The strong consumer demand has been built up. We do have a diaspora of over 10 million Filipinos abroad. Positive thing about that is as global citizens they’ve earning in a global environment and send those remittances back home.
So, we have an economy that is alive. At the same time, increasingly we are trying to attract more and more investment to the country. We have tremendous infrastructure development needs; there is a need to bring experts, I guess, from the region to continue investing and building the infrastructure space.
Our government is moving towards encouraging private sector engagement to build our infrastructure. I think there are tremendous opportunities here for all the countries in ASEAN who built up experience in this area to begin with. Secondly, we have a very underdeveloped tourism sector. Many countries at ASEAN have been far better at building infrastructure that is conducive to tourism. I think the Philippines can move up and take itself up to a higher level of standards. On the tourism front, we can being to sell ourselves as a grouping of countries where travellers can maybe visit one country one day and then, visit another and then see ourselves as a grouping of nations. I guess that is an exciting set of countries to visit from the tourism point of view. So, I think there are many opportunities even beyond this for us to keep working and developing, I guess, a sense of commonality and the sharing of opportunities.
I think ultimately people must feel that as they come into ASEAN, that it is almost a seamless entry from one country into another. If we can create that kind of environment from the infrastructure point of view, the rules point of view, travel point of view; then what you can get is some momentum around people coming into our area feeling comfortable doing so and visiting all of us one way or another over time.
CARI:I see. So, that is in things such as immigration clearance.
Jaime Zobel de Ayala: Absolutely. It would be lovely to have a common set of standards and you know, ideally maybe some sort of join visas that allow people to travel around the ASEAN countries. You know, already APEC, as an institution, has helped a little bit with the APEC card and the like but I think, ASEAN should differentiate their self a little bit more. If people feel like that when they enter Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei; they’re entering a common g group of countries, then you really are creating a spirit where encouraging people to come in and moving freely among our countries.
I also believe that our workers, that are skilled workers, should ideally be able to move around countries more freely. Issues of people are over-sensitive with respect to countries, I guess I can understand that, but if licensed individuals, professionals can move freely within our countries; and then I think we are creating a very exciting environment for people to build as a grouping of nations.
I know these things are easier said than done but it could be an exciting potential area for building commonality of professional engagement and investments in our region.
CARI: So that, it is an interesting area to pick up on. The free movement of people. ASEAN has tended to be more willing to open barrier of trades in good and that to trades in services and least of all, to movement of people. And yet, that actually seems necessary and fundamental. So, I believe it is important to get to that.
Jaime Zobel de Ayala: But to get to that stage, particularly if you move professionals around, there have to be a number of building blocks to that. For example, educational standards, we must all have obviously the same kind of standards and the way we have credit, I guess, our students, professionals like accreditation whether you are lawyers, architects, doctors. Again, we need a common set of standards by which we all judge ourselves so that the person can be interchangeable among our countries. These are not easy things to achieve. However, if one is able to, basically we are raising the standards for all our countries because we are moving up to the common denominator rather than coming down to the lowest common denominator. They wouldn’t do that. Then we are all helping, I guess, all countries will rise with the tide as opposed to one go down and the other one go up.
CARI: Thank you very much