GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – With barely a year left before the ASEAN Economic Integration, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairperson Luwalhati Antonino underscores the importance of connectivity in Mindanao's entry into the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

Speaking before more than 1,200 key business players from Mindanao during the opening of the 23rd Mindanao Business Conference at the KCC Convention Center, here in this city, Antonino said that connectivity plays a key role in Mindanao's bid to escalate its contribution to the national economy, and its participation to AEC.

"The goal is to create a connected and globally competitive Mindanao, enabling to position itself as a single, integrated economy that is able to leverage and participate in the ASEAN, and the global economic community," said Antonino.

She added the Mindanao Development Corridors, an initiative of MinDA aims to bolster infrastructure and improve transport and logistics support to tourism, industry, and agriculture sector.

"Improved infrastructure contributes to the enhancement of air, land, and sea transport systems, enabling the seamless movement of goods and people within Mindanao, and among the member economies of the Brunei Darussalam Indonesia Malaysia the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA)," Antonino said.

The BIMP-EAGA initiative has been identified as Mindanao's platform to the ASEAN, and the full implementation of the Mindanao Development Corridors will place the island-region in a position of strength as it moves towards integration to the ASEAN and to the rest of the world.

Launched in 1994 in Davao City, the BIMP-EAGA is a key strategy to accelerate social and economic development of less developed areas in participating regions. The sub-regional grouping also aims to harness private sector leadership in initiatives to promote cross-border investments and improve connectivity.

This year, trade and economic ties between Mindanao and Indonesia are expected to get stronger with the anticipated opening of the Davao-General Santos-Tahuna-Bitung sea route which operationalized shipping services between two focus areas in BIMP-EAGA.

An agreement to operationalize the shipping service was sealed in Jakarta in May this year by the representatives of the Indonesian shipping line PT Kanaka, the North Minahasa Chamber of Commerce of Indonesia, Philippine-based cargo company ARREE Freight Express and the Davao City Chamber of Commerce.

PT Kanaka will provide shipping services to the route with its conventional cargo-type vessel with a 120 TEU capacity. ARREE Freight Express on the other hand will handle the cargo consolidation requirements for the shipping route.

"BIMP-EAGA has already provided the building blocks for Mindanao, by establishing cross border connectivity, socio-cultural exchange, and trade harmonization policies," said Antonino.

In a related development, Antonino also said "the international trading prospects for Mindanao remains bullish and promising, especially with the recent designation of the General Santos Economic Zone (GEZ) as a special economic zone."

Signed last month, the Proclamation No. 820 designated 47 hectares of land as a special economic zone, which is seen to attract more investors to the city. The new facility is seen as an entry point for investments from the neighboring EAGA and ASEAN member countries. It is currently the largest industrial economic zone in South and Central Mindanao.

The GEZ offers income tax holiday to potential investors for four years (extendable up to eight years), including export taxes exemption, 100 percent ownership of enterprise, among others.

"Developments like these make it easier for us to position Mindanao as a single integrated economy that is able to leverage and participate in various international markets, and this should be the direction of the policies to endorsed in this year's MinBizCon," said Antonino.

With a theme "Growth beyond convergence," the 23rd Mindanao Business Conference being held from September 1 to 3 aims to position Mindanao as a key player in the BIMP-EAGA sub-economic region as it moves to its greater participation in the AEC.
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