Crafts, furniture makers to face tougher times with ASEAN integration

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August 13 2013

By TYRONE A. VELEZ
Davao Today

Davao City — The Mindanao Trade Expo 2013 happening in Abreeza Ayala Mall until August 25 is showcasing local handcrafts and furniture which highlight indigenous creativity.

One of the exhibitors is the group Ivory.07 Arts and Craft of Butuan, makers of slippers and sandals made of dried water hyacinth strand and coconut.

Maylene Cutor, a member of this all-women group, said while their products showcase supposedly cheap indigenous materials, they still need more support to sustain their production. Although they received grants from the local government, they lost many members, with membership from 30 now reduced to six.

While being interviewed by Davao Today, she sewed a piece of slipper using her foot to hold the hyacinth strand.

Cutor’s story belies the optimism of the expo organizers, the Mindanao Trade Expo (MTE) Foundation, who remained confident that exports of handicrafts and furniture from the island will thrive.

Ann Pamintuan, a renowned furniture designer and president of the MTE Foundation, said they are targeting to earn PhP40 million this year, from PhP 33 million last year.  The Foundation is said to have promoted 20 Mindanao designers in the past 17 years, and assisted 2,165 MSMEs for a combined income of P 856 million. This year’s expo showcased crafts from 130 micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Mindanao and Visayas.

Nicolas Delange, national president of Chamber of Furniture Industry in the Philippines, shared the sentiments of Cutor.  More support is needed to help SMEs to develop and push their products.

“While our strength is our talent–which is top in Asia–our weakness is in the details, the costs.  We also need to design for a specific market, something that can be sold and not just for display,” he said.

Delange also said that while indigenous products are in demand such as in the United States, these are expensive to market.

He was impressed by one of the exhibitors from Davao who used materials salvaged from Typhoon Pablo-affected areas.

“It shows the craftsmanship and creativity of turning something that was once destructive into something positive,” he remarked.

Department of Trade and Industry regional director Marizon Loreto cited products such as coco beads fashioned from salvaged coconut trees in Typhoon Pablo-damaged areas.

Delange and Philippine Export Foundation Trustee Benjamin Kalalo Jr. were also concerned how the local crafts industry can compete with member countries under the ASEAN economic integration in 2015.

Kalalo suggested a need for “safety nets” during the ASEAN integration once products with cheaper prices due to zero tariffs and taxes abound.

“We need to act fast. We have the potential but marketing skills is not our strength.  We can’t wait for the markets to come, we need to explore our neighbors in the Asian market,” said Delange. (Tyrone A. Velez with reports from Medel V. Hernani/davaotoday.com)

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