Aquino assures Chinese businessmen of level playing field
SHANGHAI—President Benigno Aquino III on Friday met with China’s business leaders and assured them that a level playing field for all stakeholders would ensure the viability of doing business in the Philippines.
But Mr. Aquino told the Chinese businessmen that ensuring equal opportunities for businesses in the Philippines would require undoing previous contracts that were found to be anomalous.
“Let me clarify that ensuring a level playing field today requires undoing the mistakes of the past. In some instances, this means reviewing contracts entered into without particular care for due process,” Mr. Aquino said before the Philippines Eastern China Trade Forum held in this city.
The President said the government was holding erring public officials who encouraged anomalous business deals accountable to send the message that the government would neither tolerate nor take part in these kinds of practices.
“We have already stopped a number of such projects after discovering that necessary processes were not followed and that laws had been broken,” he added.
400 business leaders
An estimated 400 business leaders attended the trade forum on the second leg of Mr. Aquino’s four-day visit to China. He is scheduled to be in Xiamen today.
“It is my hope that these reforms do not raise doubts among some who are contemplating investing in the Philippines,” Mr. Aquino said.
“Let me assure you that we must do these things now in order to create a more equitable business environment, where each contract signed and each project completed will stand firmly on the bedrock of integrity,” he added.
Mr. Aquino said every contract should involve the right project, the right cost, the right quality, the right people, and should be right on time.
“This is the only way to ensure that your projects will not be questioned by the public or by succeeding administrations,” Mr. Aquino said.
“I trust that the businessmen of the world know that no one can afford to be nearsighted in these times. We must take the long view in order to achieve lasting, mutual gains,” he added.
“I am sure that the Chinese, known for always thinking many steps ahead and for appreciating the long-term aspects of business and governance, are with me in this regard,” Mr. Aquino said.
Mr. Aquino made the remarks as his administration tries to reconfigure the North Luzon Railway (NorthRail) project entered into by the previous administration with the Chinese National Machineries Industries Corp.
The President has also stopped an P18-billion dredging project in Laguna de Bay for being allegedly disadvantageous to the government.
Mr. Aquino said his government’s policy in business encourages competition that, thereby, “spurs growth” not just for big business but for all Filipinos.
“That many of my countrymen still remain mired in poverty is no secret; and neither is my government’s strategy to raise them from such a situation,” Mr. Aquino said.
“As I said in my campaign for the presidency: ‘Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.’ Mei you tan wu, jiu mei you qiong kun. An end to corruption means an end to poverty,” he added.
Mr. Aquino said ending corruption means ending transactions made for the benefit of those in power, “conveniently neglecting the vast majority of my countrymen.”
“By holding the corrupt accountable, we are sending a signal to the whole world: In the Philippines, the rules are followed. In the Philippines, we have a level playing field. In the Philippines we are open for business: the clean, fair, and honest kind,” Mr. Aquino said.
“The kind of nation, simply put, where anyone who is willing to work will earn the fruits of his labor, and will be able to achieve his dreams. This includes welcoming investors from abroad,” he added.
Mr. Aquino also said that the medium- to long-term prospects for growth in the Philippines-China economic relations “remain positively strong, and the benefits to the Philippines and China from these prospects, are potentially huge.”
“In fact, some Chinese companies have already seen this potential and have chosen to work with, amongst others, our public works and highways department on some projects,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said that China International Water and Electric Corp. recently began a 58-kilometer road improvement project worth more than $21 million in Cotabato. A year earlier, it began a $33-million project for a diversion channel in the Gumain River in Pampanga.
To balance equation
Mr. Aquino said that in the past, the Philippines’ investment relations have been more beneficial to China than to the Philippines. He said Philippine direct investments in China had reached $2.8 billion while Chinese investments in the Philippines only totaled $500 million.
“Now, we have come here to potentially balance the equation,” Mr. Aquino said.
Mr. Aquino said China had the financial and technological capability to be among the major foreign direct investors in the Philippines.
“With your technology and cost-efficient machinery and equipment, China could very well be an even larger source of investments for the Philippines to boost our country’s agricultural production and processing capabilities, energy sourcing and infrastructure projects,” Mr. Aquino said.
He also said the Philippines would welcome Chinese investments in manufacturing, garments and textiles, motor vehicles and automotives, as well as in tourism. “The opportunities are there; let us partner together to turn opportunities into reality,” he added.
Mr. Aquino said his economic team would go into further detail regarding the many competitive incentives that the Philippines was offering to investors.
“Incentives make investing in our country an even more viable option, given my government’s commitment to provide a level playing field to all investors,” Mr. Aquino said.
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