PH-Korea trade can hit $20B if reforms take place – envoy

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South Koreans see a lot of investment opportunities in the Philippines and are ready to pour in more if necessary improvements were put in place.

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“We need to increase our bilateral trade by promoting each other’s manufactured goods and services. I think if you try harder, we will see a much bigger trade volume in the years to come,” Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Hyuk Lee said during a chance interview following the induction of officers and new members of the Philippines-Korea Economic Council (PhilKorEc) at the Peninsula Manila in Makati City on Monday night.

Bilateral trade between the Philippines and Korea amounted to about $12 billion last year, which Ambassador Lee thinks is not enough considering the potential of the two countries.

“We try very hard and if we improve our environment for two-way trade, it will not be difficult for us to see our trade volume surpass $20 billion in the near future . . . within five years of course,” Lee said.

“Our investment has been increasing gradually and we have a great potential for increasing our investment here in the Philippines,” he said.

“But it’s only if there is an improved environment for investment overseas, so we want the Philippine Government to improve the investment environment for foreign companies and foreigners,” he added.

The country’s largest business organization, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), is championing the Philippines as a manufacturing hub for products for export to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

“Encourage and attract Korean firms so that they can consider the Philippines as a manufacturing hub for products for export to the 600-million Asean citizens.

Another avenue to further strengthen our business ties relate to the better utilization of the provisions of the Asean-Korea Free Trade Agreement in order to further increase trade between the parties through the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers as well as the creation of conducive market conditions,” Ambassador Alfredo Yao, PCCI president, said.

“PCCI, through our business councils, is actively campaigning for business firms outside of the Asean to use the Philippines as a hub to export and put up their respective plants here so they can enjoy the zero-tariff for the products going in and within our Asean brothers,” Yao said.

PhilKorEc’s new chairperson, Gerardo Garcia, who is president and chief executive of Private Equity Investments & Development Corp. and Netcore Development Ltd., said the target is to have a better match of Korean businessmen coming to the Philippines and vice versa.

“First, we need to identify what industries are of interest to us so then we will communicate that to the ambassador and his representatives and to KOTRA [Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency], which represents their trade missions. Here they also have a local counterpart which is the Korean Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines [KCCP],” Garcia said.

“To achieve that, we need to establish the trade relationship for them to come here and also, looking at organizing, hopefully on a quarterly basis, either they come here or we go there. Initially they come here,” he said.

PCCI and PhilKorEc are organizing a team to do this and they are adopting a holistic approach with other stakeholders like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and KCCP, according to Garcia.

“There are many things [we can learn from]the Koreans . . . let me put it this way, if you put this on a world view, the Chinese are low price but quality-wise, there’s much room for improvement. The Europeans or the Americans for that matter, yes, their quality is high but their price is too high as well. But what group has quality and the price is reasonable? The Koreans have that,” Garcia said.

“Samsung is competing with the likes of Apple, Hyundai is competing with the big guns of Europe—their train Rotem is competing with Ariston, Bombardier. The Koreans are very competitive and they have very good pricing. The beauty, in addition, is a lot of them are coming here and they’re the [country’s] biggest tourists. The Japanese came first as tourists before they invested,” Garcia said.

For initial industries to get going, Garcia added that the Philippines needs more infrastructure built.

“We have members in manufacturing; we have tourism, and services. These are the sectors that we need to help the government in their ‘last two minutes’ in basketball.

Because they’re already here, it’s a matter of making sure that the matching happens,” he said.

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