ARMM, Malaysia reopen Sabah cross-border trade with BIMP-EAGA

COTABATO CITY — Both the Autonomous Region Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Malaysian government are in high spirits for the scheduled resumption on Wednesday of the decades-old Sabah–ARMM cross-border trading activities, halted last year by the proliferation of sea piracy and kidnapping of seafarers as perpetrated by Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Responding to an announcement made by the Mindanao Development Authority, the ARMM has sent a delegation to the Jan.30 – Feb. 3, 2017 Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Strategic Planning Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia as part of its commitment to reciprocate the move to reopen the trade route.

Malaysia suspended since last year the cross-border trade between Sabah and ARMM’s island provinces due to security concerns in the Sulu Sea wherein piracy and kidnap-for-ransom activities thrived.

However, as security measures improved, authorities are convinced that a holistic approach is necessary wherein providing livelihood opportunities would help dissuade the youth from engaging in piracy as a way out of poverty.

Lawyer Ishak Mastura, chair of the ARMM Regional Board of Investments (RBOI), led the region’s delegation to Jakarta as head of the regional cabinet cluster on economic growth and linkage.

“Most of our cross-border trade is with Sabah but the ARMM is committed to promote cross-border trade not just with Sabah but with all BIMP-EAGA countries, particularly Indonesia and Brunei,” Mastura said.

The primary policy framework for cross-border trade to be enhanced in the ARMM shall be through the establishment of special economic zones, Mastura added.

The ARMM has its own Regional Economic Zone Authority created by the Regional Legislative Assembly with similar powers as the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.

It has established the Polloc Freeport as Special Economic Zone in Parang, Maguindanao.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman has earlier ordered that Polloc port and all other special economic zones across the region should be “halal-compliant”, or that the conduct of economic activities are permissible under Islamic religious laws. Noel Punzalan/