The Philippines must institute concrete reforms in the agriculture and tourism sectors if it is to sustain its growth story and ably compete within an integrated Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) economic community starting next year.
In addition, the Philippines will also need to leverage on its human and natural resources, improve ease of doing business, expand its infrastructure, and heighten efforts to eradicate corruption.
At the ongoing World Economic Forum on East Asia (WEF-EA) held in Makati on Thursday, leaders from both the public and private sectors examined the drivers of the country’s economic growth and the challenges the nation continues to face in discussions on “Philippines: The Next Asian Miracle.”
Panelist Manuel V. Pangilinan, who also chairs Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., emphasized during the forum that agriculture and tourism are two sectors that must be strengthened so that the country can sustain its growth story.
“Inclusive growth will come from agriculture and tourism. Let’s focus on these things,” Pangilinan said, describing these two sectors as the “hard part of the developments” required in supporting inclusive growth.
Pangilinan said that agriculture and tourism require extensive infrastructure support but they could eventually sustain the growth of the Philippine economy given their unutilized potentials.
“The inclusive growth [of our economy]is not as inclusive as it should be because we are mainly a consumption-driven economy. It’s time to switch that to an investment-driven economy,” Pangilinan said.
Cherrie Atilano, founder and president of Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm Agricool, noted that the country’s agriculture sector still had a long way to go to be more competitive with other Asean countries.
She said that while other Asean countries like Thailand have been able to bring down the price of rice, kilo of rice in the Philippines still costs around one US dollar or P43.
According to her, significant reforms in the agriculture and tourism sectors across undeveloped areas in the country can make a lot of difference instead of just focusing development projects in extremely congested Metro Manila.
She also highlighted the growing need to further develop the countryside to encourage reverse migration.
“We need to build solidarity. If we are going to make wealth, let’s not leave people behind us,” Atilano said. Currently, the country’s much vaunted economic growth is clearly not being felt by majority of the people, especially the farmers, she said.
For his part, Karim Raslan, CEO of Malaysia’s KRA Group, said the Philippines has a lot of natural resources that it can show off to the rest of the world but government efforts to promote tourism have not been enough.
“Tourism is not sufficiently known in the Philippines. We still need to push that more,” Raslan said. He underscored the need to improve healthcare and education alongside heightened efforts to develop tourism.
Another WEF-EA speaker, Kevin Lu, an INSEAD distinguished fellow, underscored the importance of infrastructure as a growth driver.
“Infrastructure is so important. It is a driver of other drivers. It signifies competitiveness of industries. It is about quality of life and it generates job opportunities,” Lu said.
While the country’s human capital is a distinct competitive advantage, WEF participants like Lu reiterated that the need for better infrastructure will always be there.
“The problem is the underlying fact that nobody invests anymore ahead of the demand… Genuinely, people want to be sure first before they make an investment,” said Philippine Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., adding that the country must continue to work at gaining the trust of investors in order to get a lot of investments, especially in infrastructure.
Manwhile, Marife Zamora, chairman of Convergys Corp. Philippines, also said pointed out that the private sector would welcome increased efforts from the government to eradicate corruption to encourage further investment across different sectors.