Promising trade prospects for EU and Southern Philippines
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Franz Jessen (The Philippine Star) - June 22, 2019 - 12:00am

Since the beginning, the Duterte administration has been vocal about its agenda of rural and regional economic development. And the European Union is one with the Philippine Government in this agenda especially in supporting Southern Philippines.

The conduct of the Davao Investment Conference (ICON) from 20 to 21 June 2019 was very timely as it was the first time that the conference reached out to investors from all over the world.

Davao is being envisioned to be connected to other regions as a strategic and suitable place for investors. This year’s conference showcased investment opportunities in tourism, infrastructure and real estate, information and communication technology, halal trade and tourism.

Together with European ambassadors and diplomats from the embassies of Belgium, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Romania and Sweden, our meeting with Mayor Duterte was an opportunity to discuss further possible trade and business opportunities and collaboration with the region. One point that was particularly important for us to stress, was that we expect that FDI into Davao would increase once the martial law would be lifted. We were, therefore very encouraged when the Mayor shortly afterwards in her address to the conference said that she would raise the issue with the President’s office.

The EU team was part of the more than 500 delegates who participated in Davao ICON with the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and National EU Chambers of Commerce as partners together with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Mindanao Inc., and the American and Canadian Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines.

In my speech again at the conference I highlighted the progress that has been made in the economic agenda during the past three year, and suggested that it was time to review the negative list for FDI as well as the 60/40 percent ownership requirement. Overall, our visit was a reaffirmation of our commitment and willingness to explore trade and business opportunities between the EU and the Southern Philippines. We managed to exchange views with many business interlocutors from Mindanao and from other regions.

Business communities from both sides need to continue to create further opportunities to strengthen two-way trade relations. The potential in nurturing bilateral investments is there.

On the onset, let me share with you the current state of play. From a commercial point of view, the Philippines is part of an on-going EU-funded project called “EU Business Avenues in Southeast Asia” wherein about 50 European companies are flown in to the Philippines two times per year in sectors like construction, green energy, healthcare and medical technologies, and environment and water technologies. The objective of these regular missions is to identify potential collaborations and business partnerships with public institutions and private operators. And opportunities here are many in terms of best practice exchanges as well as knowledge and technology transfers, particularly in respect to infrastructure developments and sustainable technologies.

In terms of Philippine exports, Mindanao products – particularly its agricultural sector – have been benefiting from the EU GSP+ trade preference since 2014. For 2018 alone, almost €2 billion worth of Philippine products – with a predominance of agri-food items – were exported to the EU at zero tariff.

Another trade-related project that could be instrumental in transforming various industries in provinces and regions, particularly Mindanao, is the Arise Plus especially on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) through the development of Geographical Indications in the Philippines legal system.

Agricultural products like Davao’s pomelo (or tinalak, yakan, etc.) could benefit from this recognition, based on quality and reputation and could generate more income for Filipino farmers.

The EU-funded “Responsible Supply Chains in Asia Programme” is likewise targeting the agriculture (food exporting) sector in the Philippines. This aims to educate and to build the capacity of firms to implement socially responsible labour practices.  The project is focused on the agriculture sector with particular interest in the fruits and vegetables sub-sector, with a research foreseen on specific commodities, such as coconut and pineapple covering Northern Mindanao and Davao Region in Mindanao. 

Taking up the suggestion of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, the whole EU team also visited the Philippine Eagle Foundation to personally see the eagle and to learn about current efforts to protect this species which can be found nowhere else but in the Philippines.

The Philippine Eagle has an important role to play in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. It helps regulate species population the natural way as it endeavours to protect all other life forms in its territory. The Philippines and the EU have certainly a lot to share with each other – be these best practices, ideas and insights on how to foster better bilateral trade and investment opportunities – and even appreciate eco-tourism and the rich biodiversity.

Like the Philippine Eagle in Davao, two-way trade prospects between the EU and the Philippines need to be continuously cultivated and Davao ICON was a big step in moving forward the bilateral relations.

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(Franz Jessen is the Ambassador of the European Union)

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