By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
France, which enjoys huge trade surplus against the Philippines every time a local airline acquires an Airbus plane, bared keen interest in pursuing diverse economic activities in the country from aerospace and automotive electronics parts to marine and shipbuilding, cable cars and direct air services under the reactivated Joint Economic Commission (JEC).
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez and France Secretary of State for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean Baptiste Lamoyne signed the Summary of Discussions at the conclusion of the 8th JEC, which seeks to promote bilateral economic relations between the two countries.
“We will see movements of French companies into the Philippines within the year,” said Lopez.
The French Secretary of State, who also held meetings with various government officials, was accompanied by 22-French business delegation from MEDEF International, the French business confederation group that is considered the most representative organization of the French private sector at an international level from various sectors. A total of 13 Filipino businessmen also attended the JEC, which was last convened in 2015.
For his part, Secretary Lamoyne vowed for the promotion of stronger bilateral relations between the two countries stressing there is still more room to improve cooperation between the two countries for the long term horizon.
Although there was nothing specific on the table, highlights of the 8th JEC include identification of opportunities for future engagements between French and Filipino companies specifically in priority sectors for promotion including the critical aerospace, and auto-electronics industries, IC design, and electronics design with space legacy of the manufacturing sector, which produce a sizable percentage of the traded merchandise goods exchanged between the two countries.
Capacity-building programs for aerospace which are already ongoing were expanded to include nascent sectors such as space technology given the soon-to-be-created national space agency of the Philippines.
Lopez also reported that new inroads were opened as a result of ongoing shipbuilding and maritime industry agreements, which have led to a French company’s entry into the Philippines, as well as future opportunities to build the country’s capability in shipbuilding and bouy-making.
Infrastructure and transportation related cooperation projects were identified, particularly in key urban centers in the Philippines, and at the New Clark City, including those that involve information and communications technology. Updates were also provided in the implementation of previously-signed agreements in the maritime industry, aerospace, infrastructure and transportation including feasibility study projects on cable cars and an international food terminal.
Possible cooperation ventures between Philippines and French entities were also identified, including a Memorandum of Understanding between ASCIEL Alliance Electronique and Semiconductor and Electronics Industries of the Philippines Inc. Foundation.
The JEC also touched on the possibility of economic cooperation with France on renewable energy and green technology.
Revival of direct flights between France and the Philippines was also raised. At present, the Philippines only direct flight is Philippines direct service to London, but which is not part of Schengen-visa countries.
As France has the experience and critical tools in developing startups, and fosters a business environment that keenly promotes disruptive thinking, the Philippines invited the French side to help harness its emerging startup and creative ecosystem.
Cooperation efforts in e-commerce, research and development were also identified.
Already, Lopez divulged plans of doing trade and investment promotion in France this year.
Some issues raised from the French side also include a faster liberalization of the economy via the Foreign Investment Negative List. In particular, French firms are keen on the opening of the country’s public service and retail trade sectors.
France has also emphasized that their hogs industry is not affected by the ASF virus. Imports of pork products from France are still allowed.
“Considering the discussions and opportunities identified in the JEC, and the high level of interest exhibited during today’s event, I would not be surprised if the Philippines and France continue this pace of dynamic growth in its bilateral trade,” Lopez said.
In 2018, total trade between the Philippines and France grew to $2.64 billion, up by 52.43 percent from its 2017 level at $1.73 billion.