Philippine Ambassador to Poland Ms. Patricia Ann V. Paez spoke on the topic “ASEAN Economic Community (AEC): Opportunities for the EU and Poland” during the first-ever conference on ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Held last month to raise awareness about what was then the forthcoming formal unveiling of the AEC (oficially launched on 31 December 2015), the event was organized by the ASEAN Committee in Warsaw (ACW) in partnership with Poland’s Ministry of Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, THINK-TANK, and the Polish Chamber of Commerce. The ASEAN Committee in Warsaw is composed of the Ambassadors of Indonesia (current chair of the ACW), Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam all of which have embassies in Warsaw. Ambassdor Paez said that the European Union (EU) - the world’s largest economy - is ASEAN’s 2nd largest trading partner and ASEAN is the EU’s 3rd largest trading partner outside of Europe, which in last five years, totalled EUR 850 billion. She also noted that the EU is the largest investor in ASEAN, estimated at over EUR 156 billion and accounts for about 22% of total Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) to ASEAN. According to the envoy, the EU is likewise the biggest donor to the ASEAN Secretariat and has given funding support towards the realization of an ASEAN single market and an ASEAN Economic Community through the EU’s program called ARISE - the acronym for ASEAN Regional Integration Support from Europe. She said that the AEC allows for the free flow of goods, serivces, investments, capital, and skilled labor. This means that an EU or a Polish company can locate in any of the 10 countries that comprise ASEAN and its goods and services can the enter the nine other countries, duty-free. Ambassador Paez likewise underscored that the investment environment in ASEAN is attractive because the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) provides for a “non-discrimination” principle and confers national treatment or Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) treatment to ASEAN investments. She said that, therefore, the best way to go for an EU or a Polish company/enterprise is to enter into a joint venture or partnership with an ASEAN company. “The Philippines welcomes business cooperation with the EU/Poland on these specific “drivers of growth”: agri-business, manufacturing, tourism, IT-BPM, construction, and logistics, Ambassador Paez said. The AEC “leads to more effective integration into the global supply chain, particularly for these sectors: agriculture, production and manufacturing, services, logistics and distribution, sales and marketing, research and development, and innovation, “ she added. The manufacturing sectors which are expected to expand because of the AEC are: electronics, car parts and components; chemicals, textiles, and clothing. Infrastructure, energy, “green technologies”, transport systems, food processing, construction, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and instruments, retail, and ICT are also very promising sectors for EU and Polish investors and entrepreneurs. Focusing on the huge potentials in ASEAN for EU and Polish exporters of consumer goods, the envoy added that ASEAN, with a population of over 600 million, has the fastest-growing “consuming class.” This is especially so, since poverty in the region has been decreasing significantly as the ranks of the middle class have been increasing. Ambassador Paez also said that according to a 2014 report of McKinsey & Co., 14% of the ASEAN population lived below the poverty line of US $ 1.25 a day in 2000. However, in 2013, this has been reduced to just 3% of the ASEAN population, according to the same report. She underscored that the AEC is still a “work in progress” although it is already 92% complete, having put into place 463 out of 506 measures stipulated in the AEC blueprint. For the EU and Polish investors/entrepreneurs to seize the host of opporunities opened by the AEC, Ambassador Paez urged them to avail thmselves of the European Commission’s program called Support for European Business in South East Asia Markets (SEBSEAM); participate in the ASEAN-EU Business Summits which are yearly commercial dialogues; and use EU business networks which were opened by the EU in different ASEAN countries, precisely to assist interested EU and Polish investors/entrepreneurs. She informed the audience that there is an EU-Philippines Business Network (EPBN) office in Manila which can be contacted anytime for requests for information and/or assistance. The envoy likewise said that Polish SMEs may consider combining forces with ASEAN SMEs and that a Directory of ASEAN SMEs is already available in the public domain and can be accessed by anyone electronically.