California businessmen hope to boost Philippine ties

Posted on July 13, 2015

AN ECONOMIC delegation from San Diego County in the United States trooped to the Philippines last week to possibly tap the country’s pool of medical and legal professionals, as part of efforts to promote bilateral trade between the two places.

A group of American officials led by Honorary Philippine Consul of San Diego Audie J. De Castro visited the Philippines July 6-10 to explore possible trade and tourism ties here, saying that local businesses would have a good market of 200,000 Filipinos in San Diego should the businesses decide to invest in the California county.

Besides the strong pool of Filipino-American residents, the Philippines’ robust economic growth has provided “confidence” for San Diego industries to look to Manila and other Philippine economic hubs as possible offshore investment destinations, Mr. De Castro said.

Nine economic mission delegates composed of San Diego business executives and government officials met with their Filipino counterparts to explore possible exchange deals in investments during their five-day stay. Among the meetings held were those with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, and the local business chambers, led by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.

“The talks have been going very well. We don’t have any commitments -- we didn’t have that expectation,” Mr. De Castro, himself a Filipino-American, said in an interview last Thursday in Makati City. “Our goal is to come here and build relationships with people and hope that the commitments are made later, when people more comfortable with each other.”

“The purpose of this mission is to promote both trade and diplomacy in the two countries,” he also said.

During the Thursday briefing, Mr. De Castro described the Filipino community in San Diego as “very successful” and “highly entrepreneurial,” with some 7,000 Filipinos with their own businesses, mostly under the medical and professional industries.

Mr. De Castro, a business lawyer, said the delegation hopes to tap the labor market here for San Diego-based businesses looking to expand their operations, given the quality of the Filipino work force.

“Companies that are starting up or expanding need quality services from individuals in the Philippines.... Our goal as a region is to foster that growth and give them the resources for them to expand, and part of that is putting them to the right direction as to where to look for additional talent,” Mr. De Castro said.

“The Philippines is a breeding ground for a highly-educated, skilled, talented work force.”

Particular professionals to be targeted are lawyers, doctors and nurses, Mr. De Castro said, to complement the bulk of San Diego firms engaged in the medical and professional services.

Kevin Harris, chief executive officer of the San Diego-based medical firm, which focuses on breast cancer detection, said professionals who can do phone-in services are among the immediate needs of his firm upon expansion.

“I need people, doctors and nurses, who can answer the phone to talk to patients. There’s an opportunity to make the change; that’s why we’re here,” Mr. Harris told the pool of local businessmen last week, pointing to the high levels of English proficiency, education, and professionalism of Filipino workers.

Sought for comment, Vice-Chairman Enrique C. Lim of the Philippines-USA Economic and Business Council said apart from deals on medical and scientific laboratory equipment, the Philippines can also offer crop raising as among possible goods for trade.

“On the other side, I want to encourage agriculture. This country has all the opportunity, and this is a priority area that the government is emphasizing. We have the land, and we don’t have winter; the whole year, you can plant,” Mr. Lim said in a separate interview, adding that cacao, rubber, and coconut are among the crops that can be raised and traded here.

“We have the land ready for the planting. For me, I want to offer something that is workable.”

Chris Cate, the first Filipino-American elected council member for the sixth district of San Diego City, added that other trade prospects the Philippines can tap from San Diego would be defense systems and services as well as craft beer, alongside an expected increase in foreign tourists once the deals are forged.

Mr. De Castro, however, said several factors could stand as risks for the agreements that are yet to be signed.

“What we should also tap is the government programs here that are very friendly for business, especially the PEZA. Just hearing about those tax incentives and holidays and all the assistance that the government can provide is a very, very large resource for us,” the honorary consul said.

He added, though, that the proposal pending in Congress to change the set of fiscal incentives handed out by investment promotion agencies in the country would likely stand as a big hurdle in bringing in more foreign investment.

Reciprocity rules in the conduct of professional services, especially for lawyers and doctors, also stand as an obstacle for the two potential trading partners, he added.

But government transparency, Mr. De Castro said, could address the risks facing the Philippine investment climate, especially with the upcoming change in presidency. -- Melissa Luz T. Lopez