The Philippines is improving the ease of doing business to encourage increased investments from Spanish and other foreign business groups that want a foothold in the highly lucrative and emerging integrated Southeast Asian market, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said. Speaking at the opening of the 8th Tribuna Espana-Filipinas held here, Dominguez also said the Duterte administration is committed to keep the robust pace of domestic growth that expanded 7.1 percent in the third quarter and has begun taking initiatives to sustain this momentum that has made the Philippines among Asia's fastest-growing economies. These steps include moving rapidly in modernizing the country's infrastructure, bringing down production costs to competitive levels and opening public private partnership (PPP) projects to clear traffic congestion and improve the flow of commerce throughout the country. "There should be ample opportunities for Spanish firms to participate in these projects," Dominguez said at the symposium held at the Marco Polo Hotel, pointing out that the Philippine government is set to invest $180 billion in infrastructure over the next six years. "I would like to recognize that Spain is very advanced in infrastructure, particularly highways and railways," Dominguez added. Under the 2013-2016 Master Plan for Spanish Cooperation, the Philippines is the only priority country of Spain in Asia. As of April this year, data from the National Economic and Development Authority show that on-going Spanish Official Development Assistance (ODA) (purely grants) to the Philippines amounts to US$ 29.93 million. The government is also improving the ease of doing business in the country by drastically cutting red tape, through, among others, simplifying procedures and reducing the number of approvals required for businesses to set up shop and in the future, utilizing modern information technologies to build a national database and expand electronic governance, Dominguez said. "In the third quarter of this year, the Philippines overtook all other Asian economies by posting a robust 7.1 percent GDP growth. The Duterte administration commits to maintaining that pace of economic growth into the medium term and beyond. This is the only way we could bring down our poverty rates and absorb our very young population into the workforce," Dominguez said. Among the prominent personalities present at the gathering were Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Ignacio Ybanez; George Barcelon, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Jose Leviste, Chair of the Philippines-Spain Business Council; Ramon Moreno, director-general of Casa Asia; and members of the diplomatic corps of Spain and the Philippines. "As part of improving the ease of doing business, we are now closely reviewing the investments negative lists," Dominguez said. "We will try to cut these lists as much as is constitutionally possible in order to enhance investment flows to our economy." "We wish foreign investors to come in and provide the competition our economy so direly needs," he said. "Foreign investments not only induce competitiveness among firms, they cause transfers of technologies that will yield rewards for our economy in the long run." "We need to do this. For the economy to maintain its pace of growth and become more inclusive, it must be investment-led. Our economy can be investment-led only if government learns to become an enabler of enterprise rather than a gatekeeper for vested interests," Dominguez noted. Against this backdrop, Dominguez said the Department of Finance (DOF) is ready and able to provide assistance to Spanish businesspersons and other overseas groups that want to do business in the Philippines. "The Philippine economy is in what I have called a "Cinderella moment." Globally, we benefit from a low interest rate and fuel price regimes. We are about to hit our demographic sweet spot, with a large number of well-educated, cosmopolitan young Filipinos entering the work force," the finance chief said. He added: "A stable government guided by the rule of law is assured. The entry of Mindanao into the national economic mainstream opens up many possibilities for doing business." Dominguez, in opening the Tribuna Espana-Filipinas, described the symposium as a "multifaceted" discussion covering all aspects of the historical relationship between the Philippines and Spain. "By the sheer length of our relationship, what began as a serendipitous discovery transformed into a warm embrace. First we were strangers; now we are best of friends. More than that, we are brothers," Dominguez said. He expressed the hope that dialogues like the Tribuna Espana-Filipinas would lead not only to improved trade ties between Manila and Madrid but also higher tourist traffic between the two countries. "A growing Filipino middle class looks to Spain as an attractive tourist destination. Spanish tourists, we hope, will see the Philippines likewise: a tropical paradise that incidentally shares a Hispanic heritage. I do look forward to a booming tourist exchange very soon and our visitors, who have traveled a long way to join this forum, will help us spread the word," Dominguez said. In his speech, Dominguez mentioned that Filipino companies have acquired assets overseas to improve the Philippines' trading position in Southeast Asia and hoped that the Philippines could attract Spanish companies to follow this lead and also set up shop here to take advantage of the emerging integrated market in the region. "For instance, one of our major distilleries recently acquired a respected Spanish brandy maker to supply its line of products intended for Asian distribution," said Dominguez, apparently referring to the Philippines' largest liquor producer, Grupo Emperador, which completed its acquisition of Beam Suntory's brandy and sherry businesses in Spain last March. The deal involves the acquisition of Fundador Pedro Domecq, the Philippines' largest selling premium imported brandy; Terry Centenario, Spain's No. 1 selling brandy; Tres Cepas, Equatorial Guinea's No. 1 brandy; and Harveys, the U.K.'s No. 1 selling sherry wine. In the symposium, Dominguez also briefly discussed the DOF's proposed comprehensive tax reform program, which, he said, would greatly enhance the country's competitiveness and "make the decision to invest in the Philippines a lot easier" for foreign investors. The comprehensive tax reform proposal involves lowering personal and corporate income taxes, which is complemented by several revenue-enhancing measures to make the tax system progressive, simpler, fairer and more efficient. "As Secretary of Finance, I commit to maintaining a well-managed fiscal order. Even as we look to increasing public spending to invest in our people and unleash the country's economic potential, we will achieve the revenue levels to support this. That will keep interest and inflation rates low, the currency exchange predictable and the incentive for doing business here attractive," Dominguez said.
Source: Philippine Information Agency