Aquino gets down to business in UK

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AQUINO IN LONDON President Aquino is welcomed by British officials, led by Baroness Rawlings (third from right), baroness in waiting to Queen Elizabeth II, at London’s Heathrow Airport on Monday for his official working visit to the United Kingdom. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

LONDON—President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday crowned the first full day of his visit to the United Kingdom by attending business meetings between Filipino and European companies, resulting in deals that would raise around $1 billion in investments for the Philippines.

Mr. Aquino arrived in London at 9 p.m. on Monday (4 a.m. on Tuesday in Manila) on a chartered Philippine Airlines flight on the first leg of his two-continent journey, which will also take him to the United States, where he will have a one-on-one meeting with US President Barack Obama.

Mr. Aquino’s visit to the UK is business while that to the US is political, Palace aides said. His 44-hour London visit coincided with royal festivities commemorating 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th year on the throne.

While he will not meet with the queen, Mr. Aquino will have meetings  with  Prime Minister David Cameron and Elizabeth’s son, Prince Andrew.

Explaining why Mr. Aquino would not have an audience with the queen, Presidential Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said the President was here mainly to talk trade and investments.

The British government  sent three officials to meet Mr. Aquino at the Royal Suites of London’s Heathrow Airport—Lady Rawlings, Baroness-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth II, Ambassador Nicolas Jarrold and UK Ambassador to Manila Stephen Lillie.

Expected investments

Mr. Aquino’s first three business meetings on Tuesday were expected to generate $1.03 billion in investments, Philippine officials said.

The President attended meetings between executives of Rolls-Royce and Cebu Pacific, Asea Gaz Asia Ltd. and Aboitiz Equity Ventures Gas Project, and Glencore International and Pasar (Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corp.)

Executives of Rolls-Royce and Cebu Pacific signed a $280-million service contract. Under the deal, Cebu Pacific will buy from Rolls-Royce new Trent 700 engines for up to eight leased Airbus aircraft that the carrier will use to launch long haul operations in the second half of 2013.

Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s biggest brands, is a leading provider of  power systems and services for land, sea and air, including civil aerospace and defense aerospace.

Gaz Asia and Aboitiz Equity, on the other hand, are to invest $150 million to build plants that will convert bio-methane from waste materials into bio-methane that can be used for vehicle fuel.

Carandang said Glencore, the majority owner of Pasar, planned to invest between $500 million and $600 million to expand smelting capacity and build a power plant to support their operations.

Pasar investments can generate 700 jobs, Carandang said.

Pasar owns and operates the only copper smelter and refinery in the Philippines. The Pasar plant is in Leyte province. Glencore, based in Switzerland, is a producer of metals, minerals, energy and agricultural products.

No Scarborough talks

Arriving just hours after a star-studded diamond jubilee concert for Queen Elizabeth started at Buckingham Palace, Mr. Aquino went straight to the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel to rest.

Carandang said Mr. Aquino’s visit would center on enhancing trade and investments. Contradicting an earlier statement from Philippine diplomats, Carandang said there would be no talks on  geopolitical issues, like the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China over Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

“That’s not going to be be an issue here … because this is primarily an economic visit,” Carandang told reporters.  “This (visit) is really to enhance our economic ties with Britain and that’s really the main purpose why the President is here.”

“It’s not that we’re avoiding it  but it’s really not something that’s on the table,” Carandang said. “We’re really here for economic reasons and most of our ties with Britain really have been historically economic rather than defense or politics-related. So we want to build on that.”

He added: “We want to be able to sell the Philippines to British investors. So that’s really the main agenda here.”

He said the visit was also meant to introduce Mr. Aquino to the Europeans. “More political things will be discussed in Washington with President Obama,” he said.

Talks with Cameron

Carandang said Mr. Aquino’s visit would not be diminished by his having no audience with the queen.

“At the time when they’re very busy with the jubilee (and) they are getting ready for the Olympics, we’re very happy they made time for this visit,” he said.

After two full days of meetings here on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Aquino will fly to Washington.

Carandang said Mr. Aquino would have substantive talks with Cameron while his meeting with Prince Andrew would be more part of protocol.

The President is accompanied by eight Cabinet secretaries and at least 15 businessmen, some of whom will also join him in his US trip.

The Cabinet secretaries include Voltaire Gazmin of defense, Cesar Purisima of finance, Mar Roxas of transportation, Rene Almendras of energy, Ramon Jimenez Jr. of tourism, Gregory Domingo of trade and Carandang. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario is joining the group later.

250,000 Filipinos

Later on Tuesday, the President  will tour the Imperial War Museum.

Mr. Aquino will cap his first full day in London with a photo-shoot for the Department of Tourism’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, and a meeting with the Filipino community.

There are about 250,000 Filipinos in the UK, according to Malacañang. Of the number, 70 percent are professionals, 10 to 20 percent are second-generation Filipinos and 10 percent are domestic workers.

From 18,000 in 1986, Filipinos living and working in the UK increased by 833 percent to 250,000 in 2011, according to the Palace.

The Philippines is also the biggest source of foreign nurses for the UK, with around 30,000 of them here. The Filipinos are best known in the UK for their contributions to the healthcare sector.

In terms of trade, the UK—the third-biggest European economy after  Germany and France—is one of the top 10 sources of foreign investments for the Philippines. It has committed P1.06 billion in investments to the Philippines this year, the Palace said.

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