With member countries still trying to shake off the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and looking at the specter of a food crisis, BIMP-EAGA needs to have a playbook to boost its resilience against future disruptions. Member countries also need to gird for plans beyond the medium-term Vision 2025 development goals.
At the BIMP-EAGA Vision 2025 Mid-Term Review Task Force Meeting and National Secretariats Meeting in July, delegates from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines assessed the subregion’s progress in implementing the BIMP-EAGA Vision 2025 (BEV) as part of an ongoing review started last year. The meetings were also organized in preparation for the ministerial meeting in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, Indonesia in November.
Countdown to 2025
Indonesia Regional and Sub Regional Economic Cooperation Assistant Deputy Minister at the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs Netty Muharni enjoined member countries to start planning beyond the 2025 medium-term plan and prepare for the next phase of the cooperation program’s development.
In an address during the meeting, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairperson Maria Belen S. Acosta noted countries only have 3 years left to meet goals. “I believe we should be seriously looking into this meeting as we recalibrate our ways of doing things in BIMP-EAGA. We have the next 3 years to be able to achieve this and to make a significant contribution to our respective countries’ economic recovery efforts.”
Muharni noted how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had started to strategize beyond its own medium-term plan, which also ends in 3 years. “Hopefully this MTR [medium-term review] also will be the initial work for us in developing our BEV post-2025. I think this is very important for us.”
Malaysia Regional Development Division Deputy Director at the Prime Minister’s Department’s Economic Planning Unit Paarteeben A/L Subramaniam agreed that BIMP-EAGA should take cues from the medium-term review on setting a new vision, strategy, and framework beyond 2025.
BIMP-EAGA should also think about increasing private sector participation in the cooperation program, said Subramaniam. Brunei Darussalam Trade Division Senior Special Duties Officer at the Ministry of Finance and Economy Hajah Norhayati Haji Ismail agreed, noting the “critical role” of the private sector in delivering projects and meeting goals in the remaining 3 years.
Muharni said BIMP-EAGA also needs to consider its deliverables, taking into account global trends, including the food, energy, and financial crises, which are changing “the dynamics” for the subregion. She described the challenges posed by the crises as a “perfect storm.”
MinDA Deputy Executive Director Romeo M. Montenegro said the subregion needs a playbook which would guide member countries in handling disruptions like the pandemic and the ongoing food crisis and to ensure vulnerable groups are protected. He noted how the pandemic had exposed gaps in countries’ safety nets for the most vulnerable. “There has to be a playbook—to be the basis, a guide, moving forward once we are hit again with such similar cases as COVID-19.”
Amid the food crisis, MinDA Undersecretary Janet Lopoz said BIMP-EAGA needs to prepare itself and ensure the availability of water and food commodities in the subregion.
Many countries face a looming food crisis triggered by overlapping shocks—conflict, climate change, a protracted pandemic, rising public debt, and now the Ukraine war.
Lopoz, who presided over the meeting, said BIMP-EAGA must be better prepared for disruptions in the future and should bolster its resilience against such shocks. The subregion must take into account global trends and scenarios like the food crisis and develop plans on how countries can position the subregion to be able to take advantage of opportunities.
Montenegro said governments must focus on the transport sector to ensure air and sea links remain connected, noting the sector was among the first to be affected by the pandemic. COVID-19 highlighted the need to have connectivity especially for food. “It is giving a push for governments to look at transport connectivity to be highlighted, emphasized, and prioritized moving forward.”
Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines set up BIMP-EAGA to spur development in remote and less developed areas, which are strategically close to each other. As such, connectivity is one of the subregion’s development pillars.
While noting member countries are on track to meeting key targets under Vision 2025, Lopoz said BIMP-EAGA needs concrete projects given there are only 3 years left under the plan. She also reminded officials to look at projects that can be implemented by more than one sector, in line with the marching orders from BIMP-EAGA leaders last year for stronger collaboration among relevant sectoral bodies to create greater synergy and convergence under the cooperation program.
According to the region’s latest statistics, the BIMP-EAGA economy contracted by 3.3% in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the subregion posted a 6.9% growth in gross domestic product.
Tourism is the hardest-hit sector in the subregion. Tourist arrivals dropped by 65.40% to 50.4 million in 2020 from 145.5 million the previous year. Domestic tourism is the main contributor to tourism in the subregion, accounting for around 98% of visitor arrivals in 2020.
In their last meeting, BIMP-EAGA leaders noted the pandemic’s impact on the subregion’s growth momentum and committed to review existing plans to make sure these remain relevant and responsive to development needs and priorities while being strategic in seizing opportunities and mitigating risks especially those caused by the crisis.
The leaders also welcomed preliminary results of the medium-term review, which will guide countries’ economic recovery. Preliminary findings showed countries are on course to meet targets despite headwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results of the mid-term review will be presented at the 25th BIMP-EAGA Ministerial Meeting in November. The mid-term review is being conducted by the Asian Development Bank and the BIMP-Facilitation Center in coordination with national secretariats and with technical and strategic guidance from BIMP-EAGA senior officials.
The BIMP-EAGA Vision 2025 Mid-Term Review Task Force Meeting and National Secretariats Meeting were held on 20–21 July 2022 at the Century Park Hotel, Manila.