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DFA, DTI, business groups create body to prepare Philippines for Asean single market

Department of Foreign Affairs means BUSINESS

MANILA - (UPDATED 3:35 p.m.) Two government agencies and the business community have created a public-private technical working group (TWG) that will prepare the country for greater intra-regional competition, and if possible look into possible changes to the Philippine Constitution.

In a statement, the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc (PhilExport) said the creation of the TWG was agreed upon during a meeting among the Departments of Foreign Affairs (DFA), of Trade and Industry (DTI) and several business groups.

The public-private body will draft a "unified stand on trade and liberalization issues," PhilExport said.

The TWG would be composed of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura Q. del Rosario, Trade Assistant Secretary Josephine C. Romero, Makati Business Club (MBC) executive director Peter Angelo V. Perfecto, and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) senior deputy secretary general Ryan Patrick G. Evangelista.

The Philippines is bracing for tighter competition under the Asean single market, which would start in 2015.

As an Asean member, the Philippines is also part of talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would group Asean and six trading partners, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The Philippines is also part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which has scheduled tariff cuts on so-called environmental goods starting 2015.

During their meeting, business groups recommended that the TWG push for amendments to the Philippine Constitution and the Labor Code.

Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) president Edgardo G. Lacson noted that the country’s Labor Code, which was enacted in the 1970s, is antiquated.

ECOP, MBC, PCCI and PhilExport are among the 13 largest business organizations that last month wrote to President Benigno Aquino III to seek, among others, the removal of the foreign ownership restrictions in the 1987 Constitution.

"Business groups must take a united stance on the issue, particularly on provisions affecting foreign ownership in utilities as well as mining and other extractive industries,” PhilExport quoted del Rosario as saying.

A unified business community pushing for amendments to the Constitution “would give the government a clear signal as to which sectors the business community wants to be opened to or protected from foreign investors,” she said.

Del Rosario also urged business groups to “submit position papers on pending legislative measures to government agencies such as the DTI” as such “will give the agencies sufficient time to present the business sector’s concerns before a bill is enacted in Congress.”

Romero said the business groups’ recommendations will be considered as the government recalibrates the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016 and also puts in place a comprehensive manufacturing roadmap.