Saturday, July 4, 2015

The post-2015 ASEAN Economic Community brings huge challenges for trees, farmers and food supply


By Rob Finlayson, World Agroforestry Centre

The ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will form a single economic bloc at the end of 2015. Agroforestry, forestry and agricultural policies, implementation and law enforcement are lagging behind. The gap threatens millions of livelihoods, environmental safety and national abilities to adapt to climate change, despite some inspiring progress:

"For ASEAN economic integration to work for the millions of citizens and national budgets reliant on agroforestry, forestry and agriculture," said Dr Delia Catacutan, "we need a change of mindset and behaviours as well as new, integrated policies, real implementation and enforcement. The risks of failing to provide for our people are real. And the consequences will be severe."


Dr Delia Catacutan preparing to speak at the 6th ASEAN Social Forestry Network Conference, Inle Lake, Myanmar, 1-3 June 2015. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Dr Catacutan was speaking on the sidelines of the 6th ASEAN Social Forestry Network Conference at Inle Lake, Shan State, Myanmar, 1–5 June 2015. As the country coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre Vietnam, with a wealth of experience throughout Southeast Asia and Africa, she is well placed to be sounding a warning.

At the end of 2015, the ten countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will form the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), opening trade, investment and labour markets, supported by a new, integrated transport network through previously remote, forested areas that are home to millions of indigenous, poor, smallholding farmers.

While economic growth will likely follow, what’s not yet known is the impact on the 3.4 million square kilometres of treed and agricultural landscapes that represent the major sources of livelihoods for the majority of the region’s citizens and are the primary drivers of national economies.

Experience from other parts of the globe suggest what’s likely to happen is more deforestation, large-scale commercial monoculture crops, extraction of natural resources, environmental degradation, income disparities, environmental degradation and a lack of resilience to climate change that will create a ‘perfect storm’ that threatens not only the region but the planet. Unless the nations work together, quickly, to address some glaring gaps.

But is this likely to happen by the end of 2015? According to Ramon Razal from the University of the Philippines Los Baños and the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme, who conducted a study on the forest sector’s readiness for integration, awareness and preparations vary across sectors and countries.

"With the exception of Vietnam, knowledge about the AEC is low, even among government forestry officials, with claims that what little they know about the AEC is what they have learned from the media," he said. "Furthermore, the AEC is weak in terms of resolving trans-border issues, such as haze from forest fires and illegal trade in forest products. There is a need to strengthen law enforcement and install a regional grievance mechanism to resolve conflicts," he added.

While monocultural rubber plantations dominate huge swathes of ASEAN,  farmers in Thailand have better incomes from mixed rubber gardens. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

ASEAN covers 4.4 million square kilometres and has a population of 617 million growing at 1.3% a year. Agricultural land covers 1.26 million square kilometres or 29.4% and forests another 2.14 million or around 50%. Not surprisingly with statistics such as these, the main sources of livelihoods for the majority of the region’s citizens are agriculture and natural resources. Perhaps more surprisingly, average gross domestic product of the ten nations combined is 5.7 % per year, suggesting rapid exploitation of the resource base to fuel such growth.

The disconnect can be seen more clearly when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations informs us, in 2014, that 10% of the total population, or 60 million people, have insecure food supplies, that around 1 million hectares of forest were lost annually from 2000–2010 and that many of the countries are amongst the most vulnerable in the world to the impact of climate change in the form of extended and untimely droughts, extreme and unpredictable storms and floods, landslides and rising altitudes for plant growth, which is a major issue for a largely mountainous region.

Can ASEAN meet these challenges?

"It will be difficult," Dr Catacutan told delegates in the session she led on ‘Agroforestry in multifunctional landscapes: its contribution to social forestry and climate-change mitigation and adaptation in the context of ASEAN economic integration’. She pointed out that in a study of government effectiveness in the 25 countries responsible for 95% of global forest-based emissions during 1990–2005, of the ASEAN member states only Malaysia and the Philippines appeared in the top six most effective; Indonesia was at ninth position but also had the second-highest forest-based emissions of the 25; Cambodia was nineteenth; and Myanmar second last.

"With the planned infrastructure developments funded by the new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank and other international development funders, we will see major expansion of road and rail networks, which can help improve agriculture and forest production and incomes by reducing the costs of transporting inputs and outputs and reducing post-harvest losses’ she noted. "But building new roads and railways and improving existing ones can have significant negative ecological impacts directly through habitat loss and fragmentation and, indirectly, by encouraging settlement and land conversion for agriculture."

According to Dr Razal, it’s already happening in one of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of ASEAN: "Because Lao PDR is landlocked, it has strong dependence on its neighbors for trade. But Lao is crisscrossed by old and new highways—with more planned—that connect Thailand in the west to China and Vietnam in the north and east and Cambodia in the south. Not only have these roads opened up remote forests to illegal activities but they have resulted in social problems in communities along them," he said.

A key objective of the AEC is to enhance intra- and extra-ASEAN trade and long-term 

Dr Grace Wong from the Center for International Forestry Research, speaking on ‘Community-based livelihoods and conservation in forested landscapes,’added that, "Benefits to communities who are granted management of forests, particularly those linked to the global agreement known as ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus conservation’ (REDD+), are tied strongly to the rights to land. This becomes really challenging because throughout ASEAN the legal regimes and implementation on the ground vary from place to place. In nearly all cases, procedural equity is very important and provides legitimacy for communities.

"Our research shows that in some REDD+ pilot projects, allocation of rights is more desired than monetary incentives. Rights are a contentious topic that is centuries old but are mostly more important than tenure, or ownership, in the areas I’ve worked. On that note, the AEC could bring more risk in places where there is greater uncertainty and conflict. On the other hand, the AEC could potentially bring greater transparency in decision-making and participation in those decisions, and this is critical."

All agreed that the solution was in greater—and swifter—communication between governments, communities and the private sector accompanied by clear, integrated policies at national and ASEAN levels that are backed up by accelerated implementation of community forestry, agroforestry and agricultural agreements with the millions of smallholders who face an uncertain future under current arrangements.

"Despite all these challenges," concluded Dr Catacutan, ‘I am confident that the people of ASEAN and their respective governments will be able to affect the needed shift of mindset and behaviour. In research-for-development projects dotted throughout the region supported by fellow travellers in securing a stable future for our planet, such as the Swiss International Development Agency, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, European Union, Federal Republic of Germany, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and our many friends in national and international non-governmental organizations, we see model examples of how poor, smallholding communities enthusiastically embrace new ways of working that increase their wellbeing and incomes while protecting the environment.

"If we embrace the ASEAN tradition of humility and respect for our traditions, we can preserve what is most valuable to us and simultaneously take the place on the world stage that is waiting for us."


Robert Finlayson is Regional Communications Specialist, Southeast Asia at World Agroforestry Centre. This article was previously published as "ASEAN economic integration means huge challenges for trees, farmers and food supply"

Thursday, June 11, 2015

To solve boat people crisis, ASEAN has to engage with Myanmar

By Atin Prabandari, Universitas Gadjah Mada


As a crisis involving thousands of people stranded at sea unfolded in April and May, ASEAN was inactive and impotent. The grouping of ten Southeast Asian countries did not issue a formal statement, nor did it initiate any meeting to resolve the crisis.

To address the plight of Rohingya people fleeing Mynanmar, ASEAN must step up to its vision of being a people-oriented community and play an active role in solving the refugee crisis. ASEAN members should engage with Myanmar to persuade the former military dictatorship to deal with the causes of this humanitarian crisis.

So far, ASEAN members have responded to the issue individually or trilaterally. On May 29, Thailand hosted a meeting of 17 countries and several international organisations in Bangkok to discuss the crisis.

But current efforts, including the Bangkok meeting, have yet to address the root causes that led people to risk their lives to take on a harrowing journey that left thousands of people adrift in the Andaman Sea. The Bangkok meeting merely proposed “band-aid” solutions.

Triple victimisation


Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi people were left stranded at sea by a crackdown on people smuggling by the Thai government.

The Bangladeshis taking the journey are mostly looking for better economic opportunities. The Rohingya are fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

Rohingya people face triple victimisation: by their own government, by human traffickers and by neighbouring countries that are unfriendly to refugees.

Myanmar’s government would not acknowledge Rohingya, whom they call Bengalis, as their ethnic minority and has refused to grant them citizenship. Their stateless status exposes them to becoming victims of trafficking and smuggling.

Bangkok meeting


The Bangkok meeting resulted in pledges on humanitarian assistance. Indonesia and Malaysia pledged to shelter the refugees for a year before they are repatriated to their home countries or are resettled in a third country.

The meeting also called for international co-operation to combat people smuggling and trafficking in the region.

Australia and the US promised to provide funding both for immediate humanitarian needs and to assist the economic development of Rakhine State in Myanmar and Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. Turkey and Japan also offered funding. The US, the Philippines and Gambia reiterated their commitments to provide permanent asylum for refugees.

Despite these pledges, many criticised the meeting for not addressing Myanmar’s mistreatment of the Rohingya people.

Challenges for sustainable solutions


There are at least three challenges to overcome in solving the Southeast Asian refugee crisis: asylum seeker policies in the region, human trafficking and persecution.

First, fewer places in the region are available to resettle Rohingya refugees. One of the main reasons is Australia’s decision not to give asylum to refugees registered by the UNHCR in Jakarta after July 1, 2014. Australia is also transferring some refugees to Cambodia from Nauru in a controversial deal.

Indonesia and Malaysia, which host most of the Rohingya refugees, are not parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention. They seem reluctant to ratify it.

But resettlement also creates another dilemma. It can give Myanmar an incentive to continue persecuting the minority groups. Countries fear that if they openly accept Rohingya refugees, this will not send a strong message to Myanmar to stop its discrimination against these people.

Second, the human-smuggling and trafficking networks in the region are very organised and sometimes involve corrupt state officials. These networks have moved hundreds of thousands of people outside of Myanmar. According to the International Organisation for Migration, around 160,000 people have moved into Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia since 2012, including around 88,000 in 2014 and 25,000 in 2015.

Third, the plight of Rohingyas is related to religious and ethnic conflicts between them and the Buddhist Rakhine majority. The poor economic condition of Rakhine State also makes the Buddhist majority see the Rohingya people as a burden and competitors in getting jobs.

Furthermore, as Myanmar undergoes its democratic transition, Myanmar’s elite are increasingly driven by popular opinion. This is perfectly illustrated by the silence on the Rohingya’s plight of Myanmar’s democratic champion and Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

ASEAN engagement


ASEAN has the potential to engage with Myanmar and has succeeded in doing so before. During the 2008 Cyclone Nargis, when Myanmar rejected all international aid, ASEAN’s “constructive engagement” resulted in it being the only organisation allowed to distribute aid inside the country.

ASEAN’s constructive engagement is the organisation’s way of using political dialogue instead of coercive measures such as economic sanction or diplomatic isolation. This approach also succeeded in persuading Myanmar to open up and undergo a democratisation process.

The way ASEAN member countries are dealing with Rohingya refugees shows that they prioritise their national interests over human rights. In the face of this crisis, ASEAN should use its discretion to waive its principle of non-interference.

The international community should also encourage and support ASEAN more in finding sustainable solutions to the boat people crisis.

The Conversation
Atin Prabandari is Lecturer at the Department of International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada .

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

ASEAN "builds strong" Dispute Settlement Mechanisms

ASEAN is strongly committed to establishing dispute settlement mechanisms in all fields of cooperation, said Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for Community and Corporate Affairs, Mr AKP Mochtan, in his opening remarks at a workshop to familiarize stakeholders with ASEAN Dispute Settlement Mechanisms (DSM) held in Siem Reap, Cambodia last week. “DSM is a key component in the realisation of a rules-based community, where the rule of law is strengthened and disputes are resolved through peaceful means with legal certainty and predictability,” Mr Mochtan told the participants.

According to Mr Mochtan, the successful conclusion of the Protocol to the ASEAN Charter on Dispute Settlement Mechanism in 2010 has shown ASEAN’s strong commitment to realise the ASEAN Charter’s objective of creating dispute settlement mechanisms in all fields of ASEAN cooperation. “This Protocol to the ASEAN Charter, together with the existing Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism (EDSM), is a significant achievement in establishing reliable and trustworthy dispute settlement mechanisms,” he added.

In his remarks, Dr SOK Siphana, Advisor to the Royal Government of Cambodia and Chairman of Board of Directors of the Cambodian Development Research Institute stated that “I believe that workshop would provide an excellent opportunity for all participants to obtain new knowledge and best lessons-learned with regard to the ASEAN disputes settlement mechanisms to better prepare themselves for the arrival of the ASEAN Community in 2015, which is only one year ahead and beyond.”

The Workshop, which was attended by Cambodian participants from various line Ministries, practicing lawyers, think-tanks, private and financial institutions and civil society organisations, as well as ASEAN Secretariat staff members, provided a forum for participants to exchange views and ideas with speakers and experts on ensuring the effectiveness of these mechanisms within both national and regional contexts. There was also a panel discussion that focused on challenges and next steps on the ASEAN Protocol on EDSM. 

The Workshop was hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia in collaboration with the ASEAN Secretariat and with the support of the “Capacity Building for the ASEAN Secretariat” project, a partnership between the ASEAN Secretariat and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, which is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Friday, February 21, 2014

ASEAN Integration Monitoring Report (English Edition)

Since the adoption of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint in 2007 and towards its realisation post-2015, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has undertaken various efforts to monitor its implementation.

Building upon the AEC Scorecard, the inaugural ASEAN Integration Monitoring Report assesses the progress in four AEC-related dimensions: merchandise trade, trade facilitation, services trade and investment. It focuses on policy and market integration outcomes achieved in ASEAN Member States, as part of the first pillar of the AEC formation process.

Released by the ASEAN Integration Monitoring Office of the ASEAN Secretariat, together with the World Bank - East Asia Pacific Region, this report is the first component of the ASEAN Community Monitoring and Evaluation Program (AECMEP).

The ASEAN Integration Monitoring Report shows that ASEAN’s broader economic agenda has brought significant gains to the member states. As a trade-creating block, together with the improvement of trade facilitation, ASEAN integration has led to an increase in intra-ASEAN trade, parallel with an increase in ASEAN’s trade with the rest of the world. ASEAN also had modest contributions to the development of the services sector and the enhancement of foreign direct investment (FDI), both for extra- and intra- regional inflows.

AEC efforts have also helped in narrowing the development gap and accelerating development in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam, whose share of GDP in ASEAN grew from 3.5% in 1990 to nearly 10% in 2011. This is further reflected in the implementation rate of 79.7 % of the AEC Scorecard as of August 2013.

Despite these achievements, there remain several areas where implementation has been limited. Although ASEAN’s gains came from enhancing trade facilitation, services and investments, efforts are still needed in these critical areas as well as in the transport sector. Domestic regulatory reforms, enhanced capacities, strong internal coordination and sufficient budgets are imperatives in order to address the implementation challenges.

The ASEAN Integration Monitoring Report further suggests priorities for future actions for the effective implementation of the AEC 2015 goals.

Download the report here