THE Board of Investments (BoI) is in talks with South Korean companies to attract investments to locally manufacture coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19) tests in the Philippines.

BoI Managing Head Ceferino S. Rodolfo on Wednesday said the board is in talks with the Korean government to set up a meeting with two Korean companies for the possible Philippine-based production of antibody rapid test kits. The tests would be targeted for both domestic and export markets.

He said BoI is inviting companies that produce both the rapid test kits that confirm the presence of antibodies and the PCR or polymerase chain reaction test, which checks for the presence of the virus in individuals.

Pareho tayong nag-iinvite. Except na mas madali kasi ‘yung rapid test…Pero pareho nating gusto. (We are inviting companies from both types. Except that it’s easier to do the rapid tests… But we want both.)”

Mr. Rodolfo said the rapid test kits in Korea are three times more expensive than those from China, adding that manufacturing in the Philippines may help the Korean companies lower their prices.

He explained that PCR tests require laboratories, in addition to the kits.

May kakausapin din tayong mga PCR-based na laboratories saka ‘yung PCR test kit maker. (We will also speak with PCR-based laboratories and PCR test kit makers.)”

The Philippines currently imports test kits, including those used by the Health department and private sector groups.

Dozens of countries had banned exporting COVID-19-related products such as face masks, but the Philippines had instead opted to have agreements with manufacturers to reserve a bulk of the products for the domestic market.

Ang naging approach natin is to incentivize (production)… kapag inipit mo sila (from exporting), mangyayari niyan, hindi nila dadalhin dito ‘yung kanilang raw materials,” he said, explaining that companies also have production facilities in other countries like China, Japan, and Cambodia.

(Our approach has been to incentivise production…. if you stop them from exporting, they will not bring their raw materials here).

Talks for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the Philippines and Korea are still ongoing.

Sa tingin ko ‘yung FTA naman with them is really (about) improving the business environment (for Korean investors) dahil mababa naman talaga lahat ng tariff except for automotive.”

(In my view, the FTA with them is really about improving the business environment for Korean investors because the tariffs are already low except for automotive). — Jenina P. Ibañez