DOF supports opening agri sector to foreign investors

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Davao City: The Department of Finance (DOF) supports the opening up of the country’s rice, corn, livestock and animal feeds industries to investment from foreign entities.

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This was the message of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd during the opening session of the Philippines Development Forum (PDF) here on Tuesday.

Lifting of the restrictions on foreign entities in dealing with the other sectors of the economy may be tricky because they require either legislative action or constitutional changes, Dominguez told some 400 participants.

“I will give you an example, there is a law that does not allow any foreign entity to deal in rice and corn including investments in the livestock and animal feed industry,” he said.

The DOF chief said the agency studied the law and found that lifting the restrictions will require the another legislation.

“We will propose these changes in legislation probably by January next year. But when it gets to Congress I can’t provide a timetable—the same thing with items that are restricted by the constitution. However, what we can do administratively, we will do,” he said.

Earlier, Dominguez said the government plans to lift “administrative restrictions” on foreign equity limits next year to lure more foreign investment.

“There is a window that is totally for us in 2017, and that is to remove restriction from the negative list of investment areas. That would be the first window by law: that we are allowed to review and remove restrictions,” he said.

The Cabinet official has said it would be done through a review of the Foreign Investment Negative List issued periodically by Malacañang under the Foreign Investments Act of 1991.

Under the law, a 100-percent foreign equity in economic activities is allowed except when restricted under the negative list. For example, the list limits foreigners to 40 percent equity in utilities and prevents foreign investment entirely in media and education as set by the 1987 Constitution.

Competitiveness, which covers improving the ease of doing business, is one of the areas included in the agenda for the two-day PDF.

The PDF is the first in a series of “inclusive deliberations” with development stakeholders to reach consensus behind the policies and concerted actions that would flesh out the paramount objective of the Duterte administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda to keep growth at 7 percent, create enough jobs, and liberate 1.5 million Filipinos from poverty annually over the next six years.

Dominguez said the first PDF under the present administration will start a string of “detailed, practicable and meaningful” annual fora – and possibly even smaller, intermittent – meetings all geared at finding ways on how to transform high growth into a truly inclusive one for all Filipinos.

“At the close of this meeting, we hope to see consensus points that will be a guide to policymaking and the starting point of concerted action on behalf of our people,” he said.

The government aims to craft with stakeholders the initiatives that support the government’s plan to accelerate spending on infrastructure, human capital development and social protection for the poorest of the poor, as well as programs to attract fresh investment in businesses which can create more jobs over the medium- term.

“The overarching goal of this administration’s reform program is the reduction of poverty by about 8 percent over the medium term. Each year, we aspire to liberate 1.5 million Filipinos from misery. The reduction of poverty will be made possible by maintaining an annual GDP [gross domestic product]growth rate of at least 7 percent. The high growth rate will not be enough if it is not inclusive. We have seen in the past few years that our economy, while posting healthy growth, made the rich richer and the poor poorer,” Dominguez said.

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