For three days last week, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office and the Philippine Trade and Investment Center Taipei sponsored a business forum which was held at the Howard Plaza in the city’s Da-an district.
Flying in from the Philippines were Chairperson and Administrator Wilma Eisma of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, Vice-President Evangeline Tejada of Clark Development Corporation, Linda Pamintuan, Executive Director of Subic and Clark Alliance for Development, Jonathan Defensor de Luzuriaga, President of the Philippine Software Industry Association, executives of the Cagayan Export Zone Authority as well as a representative of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority to present their selling points as investment destinations to Taiwanese businessmen.
Also invited as a major resource person to give Taiwan businessmen an overview of the Philippine economy was Jonathan Ravelas, first vice-president and chief market strategist of BDO Unibank Inc., which has been actively helping us in sponsoring such investment promotion activities.
Some 300 businessmen packed the ballroom of the Howard Plaza to listen to our major economic zones present their advantages as an investment destination.
A senior executive of the Ministry of the Office of Economic Affairs (a combined National Economic and Development Authority And Department of Trade and Industry parallel ministry), Liang-Tsai Chen spoke about the mantle of protection to Taiwanese and Filipino investors afforded by the revised Bilateral Investment Agreement which was signed in Manila last December 2017 between the Manila Economic and Cultural Office and the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office resident representatives. The Philippines was the first Asean country to sign a new set of rules and regulations to protect investors from both economies.
This was to lay the predicate for our push to invite more businessmen to invest in our country, through our economic zones which provide incentives for foreign investments, as well as into our tourism industry which lacks adequate infrastructure and support services.
What really got the audience of hard-nosed businessmen was the testimonial of Hugh Lo, Vice-President of the New Kinpo Group, a manufacturing firm that has through less than a decade already set up five factories for various electronic and electric products in our privately owned economic zones, mostly in the Calabarzon area.
Lo spoke in lieu of New Kinpo CEO Simon Shen, a good friend of the Philippines who was on a business trip to Europe, where the company has several big clients from all over the continent. He spoke about our young and excellent labor force, especially female workers who are easy to train and show meticulous consistency in quality of work. He also praised the forms of assistance given to their factories by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority as well as local officials of Batangas and Laguna, and pointed to the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build program which would enhance the competitiveness of the Philippines as an investment destination.
The forum was followed in succeeding days by visits to industry associations such as the Taiwan Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association, the Shin Kong Group, one of Taiwan’s biggest conglomerates, the Industrial Technology Research Institute, Taiwan Information Service Industry Association and Taiwan’s National Federation of Industries.
CNFI’s member industry associations constitute one-third of Taiwan’s GDP and employs also a third of the entire island’s work force. There were very frank and business-like exchanges of views, where Taiwanese businessmen were able to explain their concerns and comparisons candidly drawn between the Philippine investment environment vis-à-vis other Asean countries.
Through it all, we were assisted by our hard-working Trade Representative and Director for Commercial Affairs, Michael Alfred V. Ignacio—who has had previous postings in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Belgium and New Delhi—as well as his Mandarin-speaking staff.
The Meco recently moved to a new office in Neihu, which is the new business district of Taipei. It now houses in one floor and under one roof not only Meco staff but also our Trade, Labor and Tourism offices. Previously, Philippine personnel were scattered in different offices, making it difficult to coordinate activities, and especially hassling for our OFW’s who had to shuttle from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (which included OWWA, SSS, even Pag-IBIG) to Meco for their consular needs.
One important assessment of these engagements, and similar such for a held last year which we intend to bring to our policy-makers in Manila and the political leadership is for a single “Philippines, Incorporated” approach in selling the country to foreign investors.
This means that while we highlight each economic zone’s comparative advantage, we do not compete, but rather promote the entire Philippine economy through targeted marketing with a unified and cohesive approach. Ceza in Cagayan should for instance harp on proximity, proximity, proximity, while the more established economic zones like Subic and Clark can tout their ready-made infrastructure.
There are so many things we yet have to do to increase the level of FDIs coming in to our country. Build, Build, Build intends to get our woeful infrastructure upgraded in a catch-up game with our neighbors who had the prescience and political will to develop their economic and physical infrastructure while we were playing too much politics and involving ourselves in less important pre-occupations.
Taiwan is an excellent example, along with South Korea, of economies which focused on the right things at the right time. Their phenomenal growth through four decades is testimony to policy consistency and serious, purposive implementation. The same can be said of China, from the time Deng Xiao Ping opened up the economy which became an astonishing powerhouse in just a little more than a generation.
We may be a late bloomer in comparison, but now our country is getting into the groove of things, and there is plenty of work to be done.
The recent business forum and the exchanges with the business community of our country’s nearest neighbor constitute building blocks towards enhanced economic relationships. It takes plodding and concerted efforts, especially to link our small and medium-scale entrepreneurs to theirs, these SMEs being the sinews of each other’s economy.
(c) Lito Banayo