Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Green shoots are to be tended

Mababaw ang kaligayahan” – which roughly translates to “easily pleased” – is how a friend would explain why we have fewer exporters today. She remembers those who after winning a contract sooner than later would be off on holiday to Europe – but, of course, these were side trips, the pilgrimage to the favorite shrine was the object? What happened to the business? They would scrimp on quality and worse would cease product development: “our creativity is unmatched and our product is like no other”! [Sounds like the jeepney?]

Feta cheese, which is increasingly popular throughout the world, is mandated by an E.U. ruling to come from Greece. The country also harvests arguably the best olives for making olive oil. Yet somehow Greece has only 28 percent of the global feta market and a mere 4 percent share of the international olive-oil industry.” [NY Times, 3rd Jul 2012] “How is this possible? In the last decade or so, companies in the United States, France, Denmark and elsewhere flouted the feta ruling and invested in their own food-science research and manufacturing equipment. They subsequently turned the salty, crumbly cheese into spreadable, grillable, fat-free and shelf-stable forms. In Italy and Spain, small olive-oil producers merged into globally competitive conglomerates and replaced presses with more efficient centrifugal technology. The two countries now provide nearly all the world’s supply. And the Greeks, despite their numerous inherent advantages, remain in the least profitable part of the supply chain, exporting raw materials at slim margins.”

A swallow doesn’t make a summer and so we Filipinos ought to recognize that while green shoots are most welcome and should be celebrated, the 21st century world demands “globally competitive” efforts. Not perfection – so we can’t take consolation from the imperfections of others. In accounting parlance, it’s called net worth – we have to keep lifting our positives not nursing our negatives. Otherwise we’d be committed to a juvenile economy.

European Union authorities have issued an ultimatum to the regional government of Valencia [Spain] to explain by this week how it intends to recover $325 million in taxpayers’ money improperly spent on movie mogul ambitions.” [NY Times, 8th Jul 2012] “In the aftermath of Spain’s banking bailout in June, the central government in Madrid is facing intensifying pressure from investors to balance the country’s books by curbing the regions’ powers over spending, particularly on health and education. The conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has also blamed the regions for much of Spain’s recent fiscal problems . . .”

Greece and Spain have pursued ideas that aren’t exactly different from how Juan de la Cruz sees the world? “Philippine agriculture hosts millions of farmers, fishers and landless workers below the poverty line. It is not competitive in the global markets . . . The answers lie in low productivity, poor diversification in crops and fishery, and undeveloped value adding. The record of tree crops expansion is dismal. Export winners (coconut, banana, pineapple, tuna, and carrageenan) are the same since the 1980s. The country is the only net importer among ASEAN peers . . .” [Balanced farm and fisheries growth; MAP Insights, Alejandro T. Escaño; Business World, 4th Jun 2012]

Spain’s fledgling democracy drew up a new Constitution after decades of authoritarian rule under Gen. Francisco Franco . . . Gradually, the regions were put in charge of more of Spain’s public expenditures, eventually accounting for about half — twice the level of three decades ago.” [ibid]

In the Philippines because of imperial Manila or the dominance of big political machineries or the Marcos dictatorship, we wanted greater check-and-balance – e.g., decentralization? But decentralization is no panacea because the reality is representative democracy demands political maturity. No pain, no gain? Structures are a false insurance – both in the private and public sectors – in the absence of a purposeful enterprise. And so governors can’t be islands unto themselves like the Philippines can’t be an island unto itself? What about our party-list system? Is it a false insurance as well? We are simply spreading access to pork barrel – and reinforcing parochialism a.k.a. “the bridge to nowhere,” like our underutilized rural airports? It would work if there is enough to go around 100 million Pinoys otherwise it’s simply “crab mentality” all over again – i.e., we’re back to square one?

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