East Asia is on course to be the world’s fastest-growing region in 2014, but racking up GDP percentage points is not an end in itself. How to translate economic performance into equitable, inclusive progress is the question that will animate the 23rd World Economic Forum on East Asia, to be held in Manila from 21-23 May.
On Thursday, for example, we will hold a session on the nexus of education, entrepreneurship and employment – three sectors that ought to work closely together, and where lack of coordination can lead to a failure to translate economic growth into skilled and sustainable jobs.
On Friday, one of our keynote sessions is on equitable employment. Nowadays much attention is paid to the need to create jobs, particularly for young people. However, we risk overlooking the importance of ensuring these jobs are worth having: that working conditions are healthy and rewards are fair. Recent strike action by garment factory workers in Cambodia, coming just a year after the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh, shows the need to keep attention focused on the issue.
Among other topics under discussion at the meeting – which brings together over 600 participants from 30 countries, including leaders from 25 industry sectors – are financial services, healthcare, agriculture, connectivity, social “intrapreneurship” and civic engagement.
We are especially pleased to be holding the meeting in the Philippines for the first time. This is the right moment to shine the spotlight on a country which has turned itself around remarkably after years of unfulfilled promise. All indications suggest the Philippines will be the second-fastest growing Asian economy in 2014, second only to China, and on target to be the world’s 14thlargest economy by 2050. The resilience of the people and economy in the face of the devastating impact of the super typhoon Yolanda, or Haiyan as it is known internationally, has been truly impressive.
Commendable policies on transparency and good governance are setting an example in the region. The Philippines is singled out as the most improved nation in the latest Doing Business report; foreign direct investment was up 33% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2013; and all the leading rating agencies have awarded the country investment-grade ratings in recent months.
The Philippines is also setting a strong regional example on gender equity. Its fifth place ranking in the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap Report places it as the leading low- or middle-income country, and it’s the only Asian economy in the top 10 of the rankings.
These two areas – closing the gender gap in leadership, and the relationship between transparency and growth – will also be explored in sessions at the meeting.
We look forward to welcoming President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, alongside President Aquino of the Philippines – between them, the leaders of the three most populous and fastest-growing nations in the region.
Also participating will be Vice-President U Nyan Tun of Myanmar, where we held last year’s meeting – becoming in the process the first international organization to bring a significant gathering of international leaders to a country where reforms are happening at a pace that would have been hard to imagine just five years ago.
The future for East Asia is not without its risks: recent geopolitical tensions, for example, are the subject of a session which will feature, among others, the Commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear. But the overall story is one of opportunity, dialogue and a mission of improving the state of the world – a platform for strong growth, which can be leveraged into equitable progress for all.
The 2014 World Economic Forum on East Asia will take place in Manila, the Philippines, from 21-23 May.
Author: Sushant Palakurthi Rao is Senior Director, Head of South-East Asia, World Economic Forum.
Image: A worker arranges steel structures at a construction site in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kham