US-Phl trade relations in high gear

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

We had the opportunity last Wednesday to speak with the members of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines led by its executive director Ebb Hinchliffe and president Frank Thiel. Both US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson and I were invited as guest speakers during the luncheon meeting that had the theme “#USPHThrivingAlliance: Strengthening the United States-Philippines Diplomatic Relationship.”

Working with such an energetic diplomat like Ambassador Carlson as my counterpart makes me very fortunate. In less than six months, the US Ambassador has already covered a lot of ground in the country. As I told the members of AmCham Philippines, the luncheon meeting couldn’t have come at a better time since we just concluded our 10th Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue late last week where we charted the course for stronger cooperation in all aspects of our bilateral relations.

As reflected in the Joint Statement that was issued following the conclusion of the BSD, economic cooperation figured prominently in the agenda and discussions, among them the need to convene the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement meetings more regularly in order for us to discuss the full range of the economic relationship between the Philippines and the US, including expanded trade.

We are now preparing a number of economic roadshow briefings that we will be mounting this year in Washington, DC and in other states across the United States – activities that will likely coincide with high-level visits of Philippine government officials and hopefully including the President.

The latest report by the Philippine Statistics Authority that the country’s gross domestic product posted an above-target growth of 7.6 percent in 2022 – the strongest since 1976 – has boosted confidence in many sectors.

Foreign direct investments certainly help sustain the country’s post-pandemic economic growth and recovery efforts. No less than the President reiterated this, saying that this is the reason why it is important “to go out and attract investment into the Philippines because that is the only way for economic activity to increase and therefore grow the economy.”

As I have said on several occasions, we are more than ready to engage the US business community and other like-minded partners in exploring mutually beneficial investment opportunities in the Philippines, in alignment with the government’s foreign policy that we will pursue partnerships and friendships, and prevent conflicts and wars. The US has reassured us that they will continue to help boost our economy because an economically strong Philippines will also be a better ally and partner, ensuring a more secure and prosperous region.

Our Philippine legislators are also going to start reviewing economic provisions in our laws and craft legislation that would further liberalize our economy – mindful of course that we must create growth that is sustainable, resilient and inclusive for all Filipinos.

One of the legislations being pushed is the Philippine Defense Industry Development Act (PDIDA), a priority bill of Senate President Migz Zubiri that would boost the country’s self-reliance defense program. Migz, who hopes to have the PDIDA bill passed within the year, said that aside from reducing the Philippines’ dependence on other countries for defense requirements, the proposed bill will generate jobs and will also lessen the outflow of foreign exchange to international suppliers, especially since we have local companies like Marikina-based Armscor Global Defense Inc., one of the leading firearms and ammunition manufacturers in the world. Armscor was a major exhibitor at the recent Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas – the biggest of its kind in the world – where it launched its Rock Island Armory 5.0 pistol fully manufactured in the company’s facility in Utah.

In fact, there are plans to manufacture our own defense requirements in some of our economic zones, and one of the items taken up during the recent BSD is Subic Bay as a priority area for high quality, private sector-led infrastructure investment to support economic growth. If one can recall, the shipyard formerly operated by Hanjin of South Korea was acquired by US company Cerberus. The Philippine Navy is leasing a major portion of the shipyard as a Naval Operating Base, and there are plans to turn the rest of the area into a multi-use facility for shipbuilding and repairs as well as warehousing and logistics services – which could generate thousands of jobs for Filipinos.

The working visit of President Marcos to New York last September has already started to bear fruit as it has put the Philippines in the spotlight as a bright spot for investment opportunities and growth, with the business environment becoming even more viable as the administration continues to pursue more infrastructure projects and forward-looking policies that would bolster economic growth.

But as expected, there will always be the usual negative thinking naysayers about presidential trips. As I explained to Karen Davila in her morning program Headstart on ANC, we live in a modern global village where most heads of state travel extensively in promoting their countries. There are also the all-important global summits like the ASEAN heads of state meetings, the APEC, various economic forums and the like.

What is clear is the President’s ultimate objective in making sure that economic prosperity will happen in the next couple of years and even beyond his term – working with his economic team to uplift the economic status of the Philippines through his administration’s economic priorities: addressing inflation, creating more quality jobs for our people, achieving food and energy security and ensuring a country that is resilient to emerging challenges and future shocks.

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Email: [email protected]

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