Foreign biz groups back economic team’s call for swift legislative OK of investment-friendly bills
Photo: Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, head of the Presidents economic team

Prominent business organizations have joined the call of the state economic managers for the Congress to swiftly approve three legislative measures that aim to either lift or ease restrictions on the entry of foreign investments into the country, to help create more jobs and bring in new technologies that will further improve the global competitiveness of the Philippine economy.

The Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC), which counts the biggest organizations of foreign businesses in its ranks, said these bills provide for amendments to the Foreign Investment Act, the Retail Liberalization Act of 2000 and the Public Service Act.

Lowering the employment threshold for foreigners investing at least $100,000 in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) here is among the key amendments being sought under the Foreign Investments Act.

Amendments to the Retail Liberalization law aim to lower the minimum paid-up capital required for foreign investments in retail trade, while revisions to the Public Service Act seek to redefine what public utilities and thereby lift ownership restrictions on certain sectors such as telecommunications.

The letter was signed by James Wilkins, president of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. (AmCham); Daniel Alexander, president, Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ANZCHAM); Julian Payne, president, Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. (CANCHAM); Nabil Francis, president, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP); Naoto Tago, president, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc. (JCCIPI); Ho Ik Lee, president, Korean Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (KCCP); and Evelyn Ng, president, Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, Inc. (Pamuri).

The joint statement issued last month by the Departments of Finance (DOF) and Budget and Management (DBM) along with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on the performance of the economy in the 4thquarter and the whole of 2018 called on the Congress to, among others, approve these investment-friendly bills, which they described as “needed and urgent” to “help attract foreign investments in manufacturing.”

This sector, the economic managers said, remains an “area of concern," given its lackluster performance during that year.

The JFC said it is in “strong agreement” with this call, considering that such reforms “will attract large amounts of new foreign investment, provide more jobs and transfer important technology for the betterment of the Philippine economy.”

“We ask the Department of Finance to recommend to President Duterte to certify the bills as urgent,” the JFC said in a Jan. 25 letter to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.

In its letter to the President`s economic team, the JFC also appealed for the swift passage of the Open Access to Data Transmission Act and the amendments to the Charter of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which the group said are necessary to “achieve substantial reforms in the ICT (information and communications technology) sector (that are) crucial to Philippine development.”

It also urged Dominguez to recommend to President Duterte to certify as urgent these two bills that aim to narrow the digital divide in the country.

The JFC also assured Dominguez of its “commitment to increase investment in the country and to create more jobs for Filipinos.”

The JFC said the three investment-friendly measures and the two ICT bills require the President’s certification because of “the limited legislative time for the 17th Congress.”

The Congress took a break on Feb. 9 for the midterm elections in May and will convene for the last time on May 20 to June 7 before its sine die adjournment.

“We believe that the enactment of these bills is in line with the third point of the President’s Socioeconomic Agenda to increase the competitiveness of the national economy and to reduce barriers to foreign investment,” the JFC said.

It added that these reform bills “are also pursuant to Memorandum Order 16 signed on November 21, 2017, where(in) the President instructed the key agencies ‘to exert utmost efforts to lift or ease restrictions on certain investment areas or activities with limited foreign participation.’”