Stronger trade, diplomatic ties between Manila and KL

Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

MALAYSIA - Investment flows being by nature two-way, Petron Corporation recently completed its purchase of the retail services business of Esso Malaysia Bhd, with investments worth at least US$610 million (S$774 million).

Business opportunities in the two countries were the focus of an investment forum in Kuala Lumpur last May, which was attended by some 300 businessmen and women. Present were Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who led a delegation of 24 leading Filipino businessmen and officials from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Right after meeting Binay, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak tweeted: "Fruitful discussions that will hopefully strengthen socio-economic ties." This is a sign that Philippines-Malaysia relations have nowhere to go but up.

Sectors for productive collaboration were highlighted by both the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry and the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade), notably tourism infrastructure, agro-business, mass housing, energy/electricity, logistics, Islamic finance, halal food and investments opportunities in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

What impressed those at the forum were the two messages delivered by Malaysian investors already doing business in the Philippines.

First, the Philippines has a large consumer market of 94 million people, the largest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, that cannot be taken for granted.

"The Philippines has all the ingredients for success. We want to invest in a country with the right population so that there is a big consumer base. The Philippines is a big customer base," said Berjaya Corporation founder Tan Sri Vincent Tan.

Second, despite its occasional noisy internal politics, business has remained profitable through the years, AlloyMTD Group CEO and Malaysia-Philippine Business Council pro-tempore chair Datuk Azmil Khalil stated. (Well, it ain't the Philippines if the politics is any less exciting). It also helps to consider the other factors that make the country a preferred investment destination:

The best global BPO destination;

A top global electronics assembly hub;

The world's fourth largest shipbuilder;

The world's next mining power;

Asia's trusted logistics support center;

Abundant managerial talents,

Highly skilled, reliable, English-speaking workforce

Liberalised investment and incentives policies, and,

It is home to Boracay, Palawan, and some of the best beaches and diving spots in the world, for those serious at both work and play .

The Philippines has its fiscal house in order and is now a lender nation. It is vigorously reaching out to its neighbours and strengthening relations with them. Truly, exciting times are ahead.

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