Revisiting Cebu: An economic gateway and a business hub
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Franz Jessen (The Philippine Star) - July 25, 2019 - 12:00am

Following the recent EU visit to Davao City to attend the Davao Investment Conference last month, it is now time to visit Central Visayas with EU Member States Embassies.

Together with Ambassadors Michel Goffin (Belgium); Saskia de Lang (Netherlands); Mr Maurizio Cellini, First Counsellor and Head of Trade and Economic Affairs  and Mr Marc Fearn, First Counsellor and Head of Finance, Contracts and Audits Section (both from the EU Delegation), I will be in Cebu during the fourth week of July. 

I have already been to Cebu many times and I must say that I have been impressed by its key economic role in the Visayas regions. 

Coming back to Cebu will be an opportunity to strengthen and establish partnerships between European companies and local businesses. While a lot has already been done, there is still always a room to increase business collaboration for a win-win venture.

All of us are looking forward to this trip to engage in fruitful talks with Provincial Governor Gwen Garcia, Cebu Mayor Edgardo Labella, and other national and local government officials regarding the business environment and opportunities for Foreign Direct Investments coming from the EU. An interaction with the “shakers and movers” from the business sector and some journalists at the MATIQ Hub is also in the offing. The MATIQ Hub, as I come to understand, has become a sustainable and multi-disciplinary enabling space for Cebu’s creative community and a platform for start-ups and youth organisations. We shall also meet with Atty August Go, President, University of Cebu. The university is a project partner under the Erasmus+ BEEHIVE Programme. This programme introduces the holistic approach of entrepreneurial ecosystems that sees entrepreneurship not as individual efforts but as a process of networking and creating synergies between different stakeholders.

No wonder that the European expats’ community, particularly the business people, are increasingly convinced that the Central Visayan region provides an attractive business climate and ample room for growth and productive investments. These investments range from manufacturing to services, logistics, food and agriculture.

Furthermore, a significant number of European companies are now in Cebu and I hope to see new ones soon. Cebu is the second largest city and one of the fastest growing economies in the country. It is highly accessible given its domestic air and sea linkages. It leads the country in export items and is the gateway to many Philippine-made products including those that enjoy the EU GSP+ trade preferences.

In 2018 alone, almost €2 billion worth of Philippine products – with a predominance of agri-food items – were exported to the EU at zero tariff.  

There is a lot more to explore between the EU and the Philippines. ARISE Plus, a trade-related project that benefits ASEAN countries including the Philippines could help transform strong industries in Central Visayas to enable its provinces and cities to become more globally competitive.

On several occasions, I have stressed the added value of Geographical Indications in the country’s legal system to increase the value of agricultural products such as the Guimaras mangoes.  

In the latter part of this year, 50 European companies in the construction sector are expected to come to Cebu City as part of the “EU Business Avenues in Southeast Asia”. We hope that this mission will provide opportunities to exchange best practices, explore knowledge and technology transfers and strengthen people-to-people links.

Furthermore, the EU “Responsible Supply Chains in Asia Programme” brings value to the food exporting sector. This is one area that can certainly be maximised to build the capacity of business organisations to implement socially-responsible labour practices that can be beneficial for many food manufacturing companies in the Visayas regions.    

Last year, the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the Philippines entered into force and this framework portends to shape the wider bilateral relationship.

The upcoming EU mission to Cebu is definitely one significant way to boost the economic diplomacy between EU and the Philippines and a means to create more awareness and understanding of each other’s business outlook.

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(Franz Jessen is the Ambassador of the European Union.)

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