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Business calls for focused government action

At the closing of the 43rd Philippine Business Conference (PBC) of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) last week, members of the biggest aggrupation of businesses operating in the country forwarded 10 resolutions covering eight sectors.

Here’s my take on the various concerns expressed in the official communiqué plus a bit more on other matters that need to be given importance. Please read on.

On agriculture

It is heartwarming that business spelled out some measures that the agriculture and trade and industry departments should undertake to accelerate agribusiness growth not just in selected regions, but all over the country.

Having a clear list of what each region needs from the private sector is a good starting point, likewise about empowering all stakeholders from the farmers down to the consumers with relevant information.

Building up a database and market profile for each of the regions would entail extensive groundwork by the government agencies involved. Let’s hope that this will be accomplished at the soonest possible time to truly be relevant in bringing inclusive growth to this struggling sector.

On education

The PBC focused on health and nutrition for public school children as well as improved learning facilities for technical education. I would like to add the need to bridge the gap between education and industry so that graduates would be able to take jobs that would be related to their academic training.

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Colleges and universities must be more conscientious about offering courses that would, by the time the student graduates, be relevant in the job market. Let’s ensure that the training the student gets at the tertiary level is not totally wasted.

On energy and power

The PBC urged the national government and its implementing agencies to resolve the tax issue involving the energy department of the Malampaya gas service contractors, as well as expediting the decision of eight pending power supply agreements with the Energy Regulatory Commission.

Let me add the importance of continuing with initiatives to bring down the cost of power generation and transmission in the country so that we can start building a truly competitive manufacturing and services sector that ultimately would also mean lower priced goods for Filipinos.

On the environment

The PBC zeroed in on land waste disposal, particularly that which finds its way to rivers, seas and oceans. Local government units, especially those in highly urbanized areas and high growth areas, must find a better solution to solid waste management.

Worth dredging up is a more definitive position on mineral mining, one that has been affected by the strong anti-mining sentiment of environmentalists. While the sanctity of our land and waterways is of primary importance, we must also respect the contracts that had been given to mining companies that have invested billions of dollars.

On industry development

The PBC urged the President to act on economic zone applications already approved by the DTI. Most economic zones are found outside the city, and bringing in more locators opens more job opportunities to those residing in the outskirts of cities. Again, this underscores our goal for inclusive growth.

An issue that resurfaced this year is the planned pre-shipment inspection of all exports. While this could help in reducing illegal and parallel trade, business believes that there are other ways of guarding against irregularities while at the same time continuing to facilitate trade.

Foremost among the reforms needed at the Bureau of Customs would be the modernization of customs administration and the use of information communication technologies and X-ray machines.

On legislation

Business urged Congress to pass eight bills that will have the biggest impact on improving the economy. On top of this list is the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act, which aims to raise more government revenues that would fuel the current administration’s Build Build Build infrastructure development campaign.

Other legislative measures singled out are the Public Service Act, the Act creating Regional Investment and Infrastructure Corporation of Central Luzon, proposed amendments to the Local Government Code, the Expanded Anti-Red Tape Act, the Customs Amnesty Act, the Estate Tax Amnesty and the bill granting Amnesty on all unpaid internal revenue taxes imposed by the national government for taxable year 2015 and prior years.

Many of the bills mentioned, and others of similar economic importance, have been pending in Congress for years. As with the delays in infrastructure projects, the legislative malaise is contributing to the general feeling of disappointment on how the current leadership is managing the country.

On SME development

The PBC is urging the Bureau of Internal Revenue and LGUs to review, simplify, and streamline processes, requirements, and fees in business registrations, licenses and closures. This too has been in the works for an inordinately long time, and has contributed to the stunted growth of micro, small and medium businesses.

Work on setting up an integrated credit information system needs to move at a better pace to enable SMEs including micro-sized businesses to avail of much-needed capital that will help them expand.

On transportation and logistics

The PBC urged the DTI and the Department of Transportation to publish international shipping fees and other charges in order for traders, importers and exporters to choose which shipping lines offer fair and reasonable rate.

May I add the need to encourage ship owners to upgrade their current fleets.

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