What happens when millennials negotiate trade policies — and the fate of the ASEAN hangs in the balance?
MANILA—It’s 9:45 a.m. In about an hour, senior negotiators from Southeast Asia will convene over trade disputes crippling the region. From poor health care to flawed digital infrastructure. From the misuse of agricultural subsidies to the abuse of non-tariff measures.
Approaching the negotiating table, the delegation of Malaysia will need to confront labor issues brewing back home.
The country will face a deficit of 38,000 nurses by 2020. A stringent accreditation policy has made it difficult for local nurses and those from neighboring countries to enter the Malaysian healthcare industry — setting back efforts to fill the labor gap.
But today, at the ASEAN Special Negotiation Forum, Malaysia will have a chance to unveil a solution that just might work — a plan to open Malaysia’s doors to foreign nurses under a regional accreditation program.
Malaysia isn’t the only ASEAN member facing a shortage of nurses. Indonesia has a ratio of 1.36 nurses per 1,000 patients; Myanmar is faring worse with 0.93 to 1,000.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, 200,000 nurses are out of work.
As the negotiators from Malaysia prepare for hours of debate, confident of their plan for a unified nursing accreditation system, they receive a top-secret communiqué from the prime minister. At 10:25 a.m., the trade talks begin.
Welcome to the Hinrich Trade Negotiation Simulation (HTNS), an environment that recreates the high-pressure world of trade deliberations in the ASEAN.
And where others have failed, these young leaders succeeded in reaching a consensus: from the proposal to standardize regional nursing requirements and, ultimately, open borders for intra-ASEAN labor migration; to the prohibition of data storage practices that infringe on the right to privacy; to the call for sustainable fishing through environment-focused incentives.
In an era of protectionist policies the world over, the next-generation trade leaders emanating from Southeast Asia are learning to speak a language of openness and inclusivity, and pushing for sustainable and ethical business practices over profit.
Notably, these millennials advanced their agenda through friendly hallway negotiations outside of plenary debates. In between negotiations, it wasn’t uncommon to see rivals going over details of a proposal in the hope of finding a middle ground and re-entering that plenary hall as friends.
All this shows how today’s younger generation — often maligned for supposedly being narcissistic and ill-equipped to face a bleak post-9/11 world — thrives in an environment of collaboration and dialogue. Perhaps, even far better than did the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.
We’re a generation tasked with thinking up safeguards against another great crisis — economic, climate, and humanitarian. Faced with the tragedies of the past, our best insurance is to learn how to negotiate our future.
The author would like to dedicate this article to HTNS mentors, Mr. Stephen Olson and Mr. Alex Boome. She would also like to give her special thanks to the Hinrich Foundation, Asia Society, FEU Makati, and the Asian Institute of Management for hosting the HTNS event.About the author – Rachel Ranosa