Bilateral ties between the Philippines and India are expected to improve in the wake of next week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.
The 10-member regional bloc will be holding its annual leaders’ conference in the Philippines and has also scheduled meetings with regional partners such as India. Prime Minister Narenda Modi is scheduled to arrive on Nov. 12 and the 15th Asean-India summit will be held in the afternoon of Nov. 14.
“I think after ASEAN, a lot of things I’m looking forward to will happen because its basically the two countries building bridges stronger,” Philippine-India Business Council chairman Johnny Chotrani told The Manila Times.
Diplomatic relations between India and the Philippines began in 1949, shortly after both nations became independent. India has since become one of the country’s largest trading partners and export markets.
India’s investments in the Philippines include Indo Phil Textile Mills. Inc., which commenced operations in 1975 and is said to be the country’s largest textile mill.
Chotrani said more Indian companies were scouting for more business opportunities in the Philippines.
“On the business side, we have been looking at agriculture, hotels, hospitality, education, insfrastructure. There could also be food and beverage products and textiles,” he said.
Indian firms are also interested in the pharmaceutical sector, particulary the establishment of an industry-specific ecozone.
“Basically the pharmazone is standstill so far but we are pushing with the EPZA (Export Processing Zones Authority) to come up with the guidelines for us to get the pharma companies attracted to the Philippines, but India is very much interested,” Chotrani said.
“They (Indian pharma firms) are looking at the cost factors and all so that’s why we need all the inputs for them to come forward, but offhand they like the idea and they are interested. We are looking at probably early next year [to finalize details],” he added.
Chotrani claimed that other manufacturers were considering setting up shop in the Philippines, which he said was “ideally located”.
“In fact we were visited by some delegations from India. They are looking at chemical products, plastic industry, raw materials to finished products, food and beverage companies, solar products. All these have already shown interest and have come to Philippines as delegations. Basically they are more on trading and selling to the Philippines till they find something juicy for manufacturing here,” he said.
Chotrani noted that hindrances to investments remain and urged the government to address these so as to attract foreign investors.
“Definitely it’s high time for the Philippines to relax and get more investments from different international markets and India could be one of the major players,” he said.
“I think they (the Philippine government) really need to simplify the whole [tax]thing, otherwise it would be difficult. You have so many components and that does not give a good picture abroad. The rules and systems need to be clear,” Chotrani noted.
“Let’s look at the ownership, that’s 60 percent [for local]and 40 percent [foreign]so that needs to be more opened up because if you are looking for large and multinational companies here to invest, they are publicly listed and it becomes very difficult for them to justify if they own only 40 percent,” he added.
“ If that can be relaxed and improved, you’ll find a lot of large companies from India to come because they go to as far as South Africa to invest. Philippines is much more easier because its English-speaking. It’s a matter of getting more comfortable and the deals should have to be juicy for both parties.”