Philippines repositioning itself in ties with Taiwan: MECO official

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while addressing the crowd after leading the flag-raising rites at the 120th Philippine Independence Day celebration at the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine at Kawit, Cavite province south of Manila, Philippines Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Duterte's speech was marred by protesters who heckled him with shouts of "traitor!" and "Oust Duterte!" (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Taipei, June 17 (CNA) The Philippines is positioning itself as Taiwan’s “gateway” to Southeast Asia and hopes to spur two-way economic and educational exchanges with Taiwan, an official with the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei (MECO) said recently.

Michael Alfred Ignacio, director for commercial affairs at MECO, said he has seen “very strong interest” from Taiwan’s government in advancing its New Southbound Policy, partly shown by Taiwan being the second largest source of foreign direct investment in his country last year.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, Taiwanese FDI in the Philippines was 10.833 billion Philippine pesos (US$223 million) in 2017, about a seven-fold increase from 1.608 billion pesos in 2016, and about double the amount Taiwan invested in 2015.

“We want to become Taiwan’s gateway to Southeast Asia and New Southbound countries,” Ignacio said, referring to the strategy adopted by Taiwan since May 2016 to forge links with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, countries in South Asia, and Australia and New Zealand.

The Philippines is Taiwan’s closest neighbor, its economy is growing at a strong pace, English is the main language of business, and it has a market of 104 million people, making it a good country for Taiwan to partner with to further engage with New Southbound countries, Ignacio contended.

The Philippines has already “been working very closely with Taiwan’s government to make it (the New Southbound Policy) a reality,” said Ignacio, who has served in his position for 11 months.

Under the New Southbound Policy and Manila’s strategy to engage economically with Taiwan, partnerships are starting to materialize, he said.

In terms of industry capacity building, for example, Taiwan has helped train Filipino engineers to develop the Philippines’ industrial capabilities and bolster its participation in the global electronics, manufacturing, and Internet of Things supply chains, he said.

Both sides also cooperate in industries where the Philippines has the best chance for success, such as shared service facilities aimed to improve the competitiveness of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, known as MSMEs, and IC design, he said.

Ignacio said the Philippines also wants to promote greater two-way trade and exchanges in education to create more benefits.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, Taiwan ranked as the Philippines’ eighth major trading partner (with bilateral trade of US$7.19 billion), 10th largest export market and eighth largest supplier of imports.

A key initiative, Ignacio said, has been to intensify efforts to get Filipino products into Taiwan’s mainstream market, a shift from what he called the “xenocentric” approach of importing products to Taiwan to sell in Filipino stores and to Philippine expatriates.

MECO is currently hosting an in-store promotion at city’super in Taipei for a second year running to showcase a variety of Filipino specialties, including snacks that go back to Spanish colonial days, such as chicharron, and ethnic products, like dried mangoes, pineapple juice, mango liquors, and coconut oil.

Ignacio said his office was involved in handpicking the items that have the most potential to succeed with Taiwanese consumers.

The in-store promotion follows a visit by a delegation of Filipino food exporters in March to explore Taiwan’s market at the annual “Sourcing Taiwan” trade show and will be followed by a large exhibition of Filipino products at the upcoming Taipei International Food Show from June 27 to 30.

In terms of education exchanges, Ignacio said his office has promoted the Philippines as a destination for Taiwanese students to study English, communications, literature, and the humanities and arts.

“We want to promote our expertise so we can help each other,” he said.

“The Philippines offers excellent education and studying in the Philippines is very cheap,” Ignacio said. “We have a successful proof of concept with Japan and Korea. Japanese and Koreans have been studying English in the Philippines for maybe 20 years. Why not Taiwanese?”

A first-ever event to promote study in the Philippines is scheduled for later this year, probably in September, in Taiwan for Taiwanese students to learn more about the quality of education offered in the Philippines, he said.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)