European and Filipino investors and policymakers gathered together in the two-day European-Philippine Business Summit to provide insights on the recovery path of the Philippines and underscored various policy options to accelerate economic bounceback and improve business resilience.
Lars Wittig, President of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, in his opening address at the online summit, emphasized the importance of policy reforms to create more jobs, as well as drive unprecedented growth and recovery.
On the same note, H.E. Luc Veron, Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines, also highlighted the EU’s commitment to speed up global vaccination when he shared that the Philippines is among the top 10 beneficiaries of the COVAX facility, which aims to vaccinate 22 million Filipinos. In terms of trade, Ambassador Veron noted that the GSP+ is an important competitive advantage for the Philippines which must be further utilized and maximized. Meanwhile, H.E. Alain Gaschen, Ambassador of the Embassy of Switzerland in the Philippines, underlined the benefits of the European Free Trade Association-Philippines Free Trade Agreement for the country. Among the identified sectors of interest for investments are healthcare and pharmaceuticals, cleantech, fintech, agritech, and rail infrastructure.
From the Philippine perspective on trade and investment, Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo briefed summit participants on the status of the ongoing investment promotion campaign as part of the government’s economic rebuilding efforts. He also mentioned that the Philippines and South Korea are currently finalizing the bilateral free trade agreement and expressed hopes for the Philippines to conclude a free trade agreement with the European Union.
Mr. Michael Raeuber, Chairman and CEO of Royal Cargo Inc, gave his insights on the current business environment in the Philippines from a European business perspective. He identified 11 sectors including tourism, agriculture and shipping in which European companies should invest. He also presented recommendations to further increase the attractiveness of these sectors for investment. On construction and infrastructure, he commented, “A fair and level playing field created by the DTI and the Philippine Competition Commission on obtaining PCAB licenses is essential for both sides. Done that, I am confident significant investments will follow.” Meanwhile, Mr. Ram Maganti, Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing & Innovation of Holcim, highlighted the importance of innovation and sustainability and their role in building back better. Maganti added, “innovations will be a bigger part of our journey at Holcim Philippines. There’s a lot of building that will happen in the country in the coming years. With innovations, we can provide our partners with better performing materials that help them build with less the many essential structures for the country’s development.”
Following this, Trish Ramos, the Country Head of Global Trade & Receivables Financing of HSBC Philippines, discussed how the supply chain has evolved throughout the pandemic. HSBC underscored the importance of trade digitization and reported that “86% of corporates said digitization is important or very important.”
In terms COVID-19 response, NTF Strategic Communications Head of Current Operations Assistant Secretary Wilben Mayor provided updates on the vaccine administration efforts of the government. According to him, more than 45 million doses have been administered as of 30 September. Similarly, PA Joey Concepcion highlighted the importance of vaccines to prevent hospitalization, which helps prevent lockdowns that impacts the economy. In view of the quarantine measures, Concepcion recommended moving down to level 3 for the vaccinated to aid with the recovery of the economy.
On the private sector’s end, Sanofi Philippines and Roche talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected and provided opportunities for the healthcare perspective. According to Sanofi Philippines General Manager for Pharmaceuticals Dr. Amal Makhloufi, “To live through this pandemic, it is important that we remain steadfast and proactive in creating solutions to our ongoing problems in the healthcare sector. To be responsive, we need to be flexible in coping with the dynamic nature of this health crisis and collaborate with all stakeholders to move towards realizing the goals of universal health care for every Filipino.” Meanwhile, Roche General Manager for Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, Mr. Farid Bidgoli stated that “the challenge of COVID-19 provided us the opportunity to innovate faster, improve on decision-making, and help patients, families, countries, and economies.”
The Summit also featured discussions on growth areas particularly in the financial services sector. BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno shared government initiatives to further facilitate open finance in the country, specifically the BSP Open Finance Strategy 2021-2022 which has three key pillars such as (i) Consultation and Capacity Building (Q3 2021 – Q1 2022), (ii) Governance Standards Issuance (Q4 2021 – Q3 2022), and (iii) Open Finance Pilot Implementation (Q4 2021 – Q4 2022). To end, he added that a collaborative approach is appropriate to encourage industry players to participate and develop innovative solutions, while recognizing the varying level of technical readiness of different institutions. Meanwhile, UBX President & Chief Executive Officer John Januszczak placed emphasis on the importance of accessibility. “What happens when you connect all 110 million Filipinos to a global economy without any barrier to access? UBX’s market driven approach to embedding financial services in the activities and experiences that matter for people and businesses compliments a regulatory push on open banking driving financial inclusion. UBX is leading the Open Finance revolution,” he said. Diokno and Januszczak have likewise aligned on the government and industry’s vision on financial inclusion and transformation.
Closing the event on a positive note, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri highlighted that “a strengthened business sector between our country and Europe will be instrumental in revitalizing the economy and putting us on the road not just to recovery, but to unprecedented growth and development.” To conclude, he called on all stakeholders to work together toward a connected and more vibrant Philippine-European business landscape.