Philippine printing industry looks to unify, scale up as Asean integration rolls

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine printing industry may be a small scale industry, but it is a contributor to economic development with much potential for growth, according to    Dominador D. Buhain, incumbent president of the Philippine Printing Technical Foundation (PPTF), and chairman and president of the Rex Group of Companies.

The Philippines has 3,000 printing businesses, 65 percent of which are small-scale, 32 percent medium-scale, and three percent large-scale. A total of 30 printing and publishing firms are among the top 1000 corporations in the country, posting an aggregate revenue of P21.8 billion.

The local printing industry has about 160,000 workers, 90 percent of which are production workers. The printing industry also stimulates the growth of allied industries, including suppliers of raw materials, the pulp and paper industry, the end-users of its products such as publishing and advertising, plastics and packaging, and cement and cigarette manufacturing industries, according to data collected by the PPTF.

“Even with these figures, it’s unfortunate that the Philippine printing industry lags behind compared to our Asean counterparts,” Buhain said.

“We recognize the need to unify the industry and scale up by adopting the best practices of our neighbors. In Thailand, for instance, there is full integration of the industry from paper manufacturing to graphic design down to post-press,” Buhain said.  

PPTF estimates the Philippines is about 50 years behind its counterparts in the region, largely because it is not unified.

PPTF has called for the unification of the industry, and initiated the  roadmap survey with the assistance of University of the Philippines Institute of Small Scale Industries (UPISSI), TESDA and DTI.

The PPTF also identifies challenges posed by inadequate investment in new technology and dependence on imported equipment and supplies.

“Only about 10 percent of the printing companies here can afford modern and brand new equipment that can print low cost, high-quality materials. Many utilize reconditioned machines, those discarded by other countries for fear that profitability would be influenced by low prices in the extremely price-sensitive local market rather than the quality of their products. This also leads to high operating costs due to inefficient processes and the price of paper and other inputs, most of which are imported, and the ever thinning margins prevent them from upgrading their technological and resource capabilities,” Buhain said.

PPTF also deplores the less attractive investment climate in the Philippines, as manifested in administrative bottlenecks in dealing with institutions such as the customs and internal revenue, and local government regulations (such as the Manila truck ban, and multiple local taxes that increase the cost of doing business.)

The Asean Integration also opens up prospects for the Philippine printing industry.

“The potential of attracting foreign investments can improve industry performance through new machines, equipment, and ultimately, better products that will be competitive in the region,” Buhain said.

Buhain said it is thus even more important for the domestic economy to provide a conducive environment for such investments by strengthening economic policies that are not only favorable to investors but also mindful of vulnerable industries. 

The fast growing supply chain in the region is also a potential for the industry. “If the Philippines can tap into this by offering an attractive package for international markets to outsource printing operations to the Philippines, it would give the industry a much-needed boost. This can only be done if we have the skilled labor and technology to make the industry marketable to other countries,” Buhain said.

The PTTF’s recommendations in their roadmap for the printing industry include banking on potential sectors, such as education and food manufacturing and agriculture, to bolster the industry; improve incentives for local and international producers; and integrating the printing and publishing industry with other related industries.

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