UNDP brings local NGOs together to discuss ASEAN challenges

14 Jan 2013

imageASEAN Secretariat | The flags of the ASEAN member states.

“Whether we like it or not, the ASEAN community is coming. We have to deal with it. We need to be positive and work together,” said Ms. Warunyakorn Fakthong.

Fakthong, a Programme Officer from the People’s Empowerment Foundation was one of more than 25 NGO representatives from local communities in attendance at an ASEAN brainstorming forum on Monday, January 14, co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), and the Thai Research Foundation.

“ASEAN will have a major impact on Thailand. It’s important that all voices are heard and there is an inclusive process to addressing the needs and concerns of local communities,” said Mr. Luc Stevens, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative.

The UNDP-sponsored forum gave local NGOs the opportunity to share their concerns and the aspirations of local communities.

In his opening presentation, Dr. Banchorn Kaewsong of the Thai Research Foundation presented several suggestions for Thailand. He said that the ASEAN community should be looked at as a positive development—and that the community should be viewed as a partnership.

Dr. Kaewsong, like many participants at Monday’s forum, said local communities should be prepared to understand ASEAN through active community participation. Kaewsong said that efforts should be made to improve social protection, rights protection and environmental sustainability, he said.

Among the top concerns of participants were ASEAN’s potential adverse effects on local livelihoods—particularly agriculture which comprises nearly 40 percent of Thailand’s workforce.

“Investment in agriculture could yield greater income for large companies, but local small-medium sized enterprises in local communities could face problems. They just can’t compete with large companies,” said Mr. Witoon Lienchamroon, Director of BioThai Foundation, an organization that advocates for the rights of small-scale farmers.

Lienchamroon also said that Thai farmers should be concerned about the impact of ASEAN on Thailand’s rice production.

“Thai farmers grow rice, but at the same time they have to buy rice.”

Labor was also a major source of contention at the January 14 forum.

“People worry about land being bought by foreign investment. Many people move to Bangkok to find work and if they move back, what will they do if the land they had has been sold?” said Ms. Wilaiwan Saetia, President of the Thai Labor Solidarity Committee.

Saetia said that in local communities only 50 percent of the people have knowledge of the ASEAN Economic Community. She also suggested that there be additional social protection for migrant workers.

Mr. Somkid Duang-ngen of the Bangkok Community Handicraft Promotion Centre also raised concerns about Thailand’s workforce—particularly Thailand’s skilled labor. He said that Thailand should boost local infrastructure workers, such as skilled craftsmen, construction workers and cultural craft workers.

ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was established in 1967. In 2004, ASEAN leaders established an ASEAN community with the signing of the Cebu Declaration, which accelerated the creation of the community, which is set to begin in 2015. The ASEAN Community is comprised of three pillars, the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.