By Fil C. Sionil
It’s always a pleasure to listen to wisdom of quintessential, experienced personalities. For me, it’s a learning curve. Thus, every now and then, I would seek out an audience with seasoned bankers in the mold of William “Bill” Go, China Trust and Banking Corporation (CTBC) Philippines vice chair.
This opportunity came Wednesday, when Cecille Yap of Bloomerg, Iris Cecilia Gonzales of Philippine Star, and I had brunch with Mr. Bill at the Horizon Club of the Shangrila Hotel in Makati. Although, it’s not the first time I’ve exchange pleasantries with the seasoned banker, I am awed and marvel at his anecdotes and insights on the events unfolding in the local market, the international scene, the risk and challenges it will pose on the world economy.
Mr. Bill shared his thoughts on the threat of a “trade war” between China and the United States with US President Donald Trump planning to impose tariff on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods. Then, there’s the Trump – Nieto (Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto) spat on Trump’s overtures to stop the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He feared the effect of a trade war. “It is not only between US and China. It will affect not only the Philippines but the world economy,” he said.
Simply put, this could imperil the potential of regional economies to further grow. The Philippines and its regional peers send intermediate produce to China. On bilateral perspective, although there’s trade imbalance, China is the country’s top trading partner. As of 2017, official data showed imports from the Chinese mainland amounted to $16.83 billion against $6.91 billion Philippine exports.
He has his way with words. Like staring at an abyss, making it more graphic. Knowing our penchant to shop, he went on painting a not-so-rosy picture. “Imagine, going to Target, Walmart, Walgreens with half of the shelves half empty.” Most of the items being sold in these retail outlets are either made in China, Ecuador, and Mexico.
While he claimed he is semi-retired at 78, by in large his daily schedule is full. Mornings are spent attending to his own business at the Bonifacio Global City. In the afternoons, he wears his hat as vice chair of CTBC with headquarters in the Makati central business district. “I am now coasting along. As much as possible, I try to avoid socials—peevish about the traffic hounding the metropolis.
Mr. Bill talked about his plan to go to Tibet, which has been in his bucket list. He looks forward to visit a Tibetan monastery run by monks where one is taught to think about “nothingness.” It’s similar to detoxification. “You will be in solitary confinement with a view of the mountains.” But his Tibetan sojourn is iffy because of the threat of the trade war.
Time passes unnoticed when one is having fun, listening to his wisdom. The supposedly one-hour chat was extended by 30 minutes, interrupted only when Cecille’s phone vibrated, reminding her to be back in the office. Before leaving, Mr. Bill said: “Let’s do this again ladies. And from here on, call me Uncle Bill.”
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