On innovation, competitiveness, and AFTA

Uber is now in the country, in Metro Manila, providing commuters with yet another option to get around the City’s oh-so-famed streets.  It’s the market working from the lens of public transportation but from the viewpoint of growth distribution across regions it’s yet another example of Manila-centricism.  But what has this got to do with mangoes?

In Saudi Arabia there’s a relatively new food delivery service, Mango Jazan, that delivers nothing but the fruit right at people’s homes.  Since after it’s launch in 2012 it has expanded internationally to include would you believe it Philippines. The service fits right in with the innovative business model and this is what it has in common with Uber.

Relative to such enterprises and going back to the concern on distribution of growth in Philippine regions, the need and priority in the provinces is food and it’s transportation within and across localities.  Take the mangosteen for example.  Though grown in the country, many Filipinos are ignorant of the fruit because one it’s not sold in their local market or two if it is it’s so outrageously priced that given other choices one would rather buy a variety of imported canned fruits like peaches and lychees on the same price!  The mangoes grown in Zambales as another example. Can we even distinguish the variety? I used to be assigned there and the bosses after visiting would return home with cart loads of the fruit you’d think they were middlemen.  Or, seafood from the Visayas. Folks visiting the place don’t leave the area without stuffing their styro boxes with lobsters, crabs, tuna, salmon, and what have you (while locals would only be too happy to trade such for a few slices of meat!).  Such consumer behavior manifests the lack of supply hence high prices of these in their hometowns.

I’m not just referring to transportation as the situation also encompasses jobs, the arts, and technology. How often do we hear ourselves say the country is rich in natural resources but fail to see the implication of the statement which is how to streamline the movement of such wealth – goods and services – across provinces and regions according to comparative advantages of the areas. This issue is something of a back subject for the Philippines.

In anticipation of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement to take effect next year, concerns have been aired about the country’s agricultural sector losing out because of the agreement.  I disagree.  It’s not the AFTA but it’s the country’s competitiveness, that is, lacking established policies and systems that should have long ago increased competitiveness of the sector, the country is expected to lose out to its more competitive neighbors.  Again.



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