By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral, Reporter

21 business deals cap Duterte’s Middle East visit

Posted on April 17, 2017

TWENTY-ONE business-to-business deals worth $925 million were sealed on the heels of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s seven-day state visit to the Middle East during the Christian Holy Week, tapping the Gulf region’s investment potential in halal industries as well as tourism, among others.

Mr. Duterte -- who visited Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar on April 10 to 16 -- is set to bring home 26,000 new jobs from the multi-million dollar investment pledges, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in a press briefing in Doha on Sunday.

In Saudi Arabia, seven agreements between Filipino and Saudi businessmen worth $470 million were inked during Mr. Duterte’s visit there that could yield 16,000 additional jobs in the Philippines.

The agreements, Mr. Lopez said, focus on industries like ecozones for production of halal products, tourism, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, engineering, and fine-dining logistics. The trade chief, however, declined to disclose the names of the companies involved in the business agreements.

Among the seven agreements from Saudi Arabia was a letter of intent (LoI) signed by Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director-General Charito B. Plaza and Saudi Investment Group (SIG) President Shaikh Al Waleed Tuwaijri -- a copy of which was obtained by BusinessWorld.

In the LoI, SIG signified its “serious interest” to invest $133.34 million in the Philippines particularly on industries like agro-industrial processing, port infrastructure logistics and “other export oriented/dollar-earning activities.”

The Saudi firm also intends to put its money in other ecozone projects, “specifically in hotel operation and management, tourism, medical services and academy, and other projects as may be identified by PEZA.”

“ (SIG) together with its partner investors signify their cooperation to make Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a significant source of foreign direct investment for the Philippines,” the document read, adding that the agreement is expected to employ 6,650 Filipinos.

To recall, PEZA went on an investment road show in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last February, which resulted in a total of $500 million worth of pledges, mostly benefiting the country’s Muslim regions.

In 2016, Saudi Arabia was the 17th largest Philippine trading partner out of 226, according to Trade department data. Approved investments from the Kingdom to the Philippines amounted to $4.14 million from 2008 to 2010.

In Bahrain, Mr. Duterte witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between AMA Group Holdings Corp. and Nader & Ebrahim Sons of Hassan Co. W.L.L. -- an agreement worth $250 million focusing on amplifying agricultural yields in Mindanao.

The project, Mr. Lopez said, is poised to produce 560,000 metric tons of various fruits with export value of $280 million annually by allotting an additional 10,000 hectares of farmland for agricultural production.

The Trade chief also said the deal is projected to initially generate 3,500 jobs in the Philippines. But this could go up to 40,000 jobs once the project is “fully operational” in three to five years.

Bahrain ranks as the Philippines’ 79th trading partner, data from the Philippine Foreign Affairs department show. Exports to Bahrain include aviation fuel, aircraft parts, household machines, and pasta.

Meanwhile, imports from the Kingdom include aluminum alloys, motor cars and other motor vehicles, plastic trunks, woven fabrics of synthetic staple fibers, and transmission apparatus for radiotelephony, radiotelegraphy and radio broadcasting or television.

On the last leg of Mr. Duterte’s country-visits to the Middle East, 13 business deals amounting to $206 million were signed in Qatar that could bring about 5,770 jobs to the Philippines.

The agreements with Qatari investors, Mr. Lopez said, include development of ecozones on tourism, information technology (IT), poultry, halal food processing, digital marketing, manufacture & export facility of nanostructured carbon, among others.

In 2016, Qatar ranked as the Philippines’ 32nd trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to $241 million.

The Middle East remains the country’s second largest source of remittances from overseas Filipinos, accounting for 28% of the total or almost $7.6 billion in 2016.

Meanwhile, data from the Energy department show that the region was the Philippines’ source of 87% of crude oil, with 36.1% from Saudi Arabia, the country’s top supplier.

The Middle East hosts more than one million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and labor issues rank high on the list of Philippine concerns.