Private sector boosts PH-UK trade

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Bilateral trade and investments between the Philippines and the United Kingdom have continued to grow, leaders of the two countries said, thanks in part to private sector-led initiatives.

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On the occasion of the Philippine-British Business Council’s (PBBC) 20th anniversary last week, congratulations were sent by British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

“The UK and the Philippines have had a long and fruitful relationship. The UK is now the largest European investor in the Philippine and the largest recipient of Philippine foreign direct investment in Europe,” Cameron said in a letter.

“Bilateral trade between our countries is growing strongly, with UK exports to the Philippine increasing by 44% in the first half of 2015,” he added.

Cameron noted the PBBC’s goal of increasing good will and stronger commercial relationships, which “has been an important part of the success story between our two countries.”

He also recognized roadshows organized by the PBBC in recent years, which “have undoubtedly helped to deepen our business collaboration in the important areas of infrastructure, transport and public-private partnerships.”

Aquino, for his part, said these engagements had further deepened the trust between the two countries, also citing the PBBC’s role as “decisive in driving key industry sectors such as agribusiness, energy, IT/BPM, tourism and retail trade.”

British Ambassador Asif Ahmad presented copies of the letters to the PBBC co-chairs, former Ambassador Jesus Tambunting, chairman & CEO of Planters Development Bank, and Nigel Rich CBE, chairman of Segro Plc. The event coincided with the visit of a British business delegation to Manila.

Trade and investment was said to be a cornerstone of the growing relationship between the Philippines and the United Kingdom, with both governments prioritizing the deepening of business ties.

UK exports of goods and services to the Philippines were said to have risen the past decade, from about $597 million in 2005 to $640 million in 2014. Machinery and transport equipment was said to be the largest UK export to the Philippines, comprising close to half of total merchandise exports so far this year.

Medical and pharmaceutical products and industrial machinery, meanwhile, have continued to expand. Apparel and clothing accessories were said to have jumped by almost 70 percent increase from last year, reflecting an increasing number of UK retail brands present in the country.

Cars and other road vehicles, while a niche, grew by 32 percent year-to-date.

Food and beverages also showed improvements, with cereal posting the highest among the top ten export goods. Alcohol was said to have also gained, though growth figures were not provided.

The UK remains the largest European investor in the Philippines. From 2005 to 2013, UK investments were said to have almost doubled, from $6.1 billion $10.8 billion.

Philippine companies, meanwhile, have also begun looking to expand overseas and the UK was said to be well-positioned to engage these firms.

Since 2013, inward investments from the Philippines to the UK have continued to ramp up. The Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) has established its European headquarters in London and is already expanding their global activities from the UK.

Local telecoms leader PLDT, meanwhile, has partnered with British company Teleena to create a mobile virtual network operation to serve Filipinos in the UK.

In October 2014, the AllianceGlobal conglomerate made a £430 million investment to acquire Scotch whisky distillery Whyte & Mackay and in October 2015 Filipino food firm Monde Nissin spent £550 million to acquire Quorn Foods, a meat-substitute company.

The PBBC was launched in November 13, 1995 with then Trade Secretary Rizalino Navarro and Minister of State Lord Fraser in attendance. It said its purpose is to create and add value to the trade, investment and business relationship between the Philippines and the UK, with specific business opportunities and programs are then followed up and implemented by private sector companies.

The five current PBBC priorities are agribusiness, ICT/BDO, energy/power, retail and tourism/leisure.

To further boost bilateral business ties, the PBBC in recent years organized business delegations, not just to London and Manila. It worked with both the public and private sectors in the Philippines to organize visits to Singapore in 2014 and to Hong Kong in October 2015. These were to promote third country collaboration and to promote Philippine business opportunities, to the large number of UK firms based there.

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