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Presidentiables to woo business at annual summit

Posted on October 26, 2015

COMPETITIVENESS and partnerships -- as well as economic policies of 2016 presidentiables -- top the agenda when some of the biggest names in Philippine commerce and industry gather for two days to tackle the most pressing issues weighing down their businesses.

On its 41st year, the Philippine Business Conference -- to be held at the Manila Marriott Hotel in Pasay City -- has lined up speeches, panel discussions, networking sessions and breakout meetings for participants.

As in previous years, the huddle ends tomorrow with resolutions to be presented to the Philippine president, who has barely half a year to respond as best as he could.

Alfredo M. Yao, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the group behind the conference, has promised that this year’s event will be different.

The big difference? It comes at a time when the country is months away from electing a new leader. The winner in next year’s presidential election may well be the one to resolve the business sector’s concerns.

“We have the top presidentiables sitting with us to discuss their economic platforms,” Mr. Yao said in an interview, adding that there will be a scorecard and that the candidates would have to be “fast, accurate and consistent.”

Benedicto V. Yujuico, chairman of this year’s conference, said separately that Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay, Senator Grace Poe and administration bet Manuel “Mar” A. Roxas II had agreed to attend Tuesday’s session, while Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago had yet to confirm attendance as of Friday.

They will be given a few minutes to discuss their business and economic policies should they become president, Mr. Yujuico said.

He added that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte had been invited, but as part of the audience.

In line with this year’s theme, “One. Global. Filipino: Synergies in Partnership for Global Competitiveness”, two of today’s sessions are panel discussions on competitiveness.

One covers the infrastructure sector and the other is on doing business in the Philippines. Included among panelists are Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo, Public Works and Highways Sec. Rogelio L. Singson, San Miguel Corp. Chairman Ramon S. Ang, Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, Megawide Construction Corp. Chairman Michael C. Cosiquien and National Competitiveness Council Private Sector Co-chairman Guillermo M. Luz.

“We will present to the president various resolutions, priority issues that are affecting the competitiveness of the country,” said Donald G. Dee, PCCI chief operating officer.

PCCI also regards the conference as a dialogue between businessmen and government policy makers, as well as a venue to recognize young entrepreneurs, and showcase success stories and trends on business competitiveness.

On the sidelines are business matching and networking sessions with participants from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Russia and the Middle East, with the end in view of fostering international trade partnerships.

Long-standing issues as well as more recent ones could form part of this year’s conference resolutions that will be presented to President Benigno S. C. Aquino III and his officials.

In 2013, the conference came up with an enumeration of over a dozen issues covering the farming, tourism, education and energy sectors. For last year’s shorter wish list, the president responded during closing ceremonies with what his administration was doing to draft an energy and power development road map and to address the issue of port congestion.

PCCI officials said that government response has been somewhat slow and that they might take up some of the same issues again with Mr. Aquino.

“We continue to pressure and push the various government agencies,” Mr. Yao said.

The chamber’s concerns this year have so far included a move by the Bureau of Customs to require inspection of goods bound for the Philippines at their port of origin. Pre-inspection is supposed to prevent the entry of prohibited and substandard goods, and ensure more accurate valuation of the imported items, possibly raising revenues for the government. But the chamber has argued the measure adds cost as well as another layer to the importation process. It also expressed doubts about the capability of a third-party inspector to do the job. The group has said in a letter to Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chairman of the ways and means committee, that the “objectives of executing border controls and protecting Customs revenue should be consistent with a wider set of objectives” including trade facilitation and economic growth.

Mr. Yao and Francis Jose A. Alejandro, PCCI director for energy and power, have also identified a proposal to change the rules on retail competition as a pressing issue particularly for small consumers. They cited a proposal to allow distribution utilities through their retail electricity suppliers to directly provide power to large consumers outside their franchise areas, potentially resulting in unstable distribution and demand projections that could jack up electricity cost. They said distribution utilities should instead be required to “focus their skills and resources on achieving an efficient distribution system and operation”.

Included in Tuesday’s session is a discussion on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), an international financial institution set up by China that is seen to rival the World Bank.

The new regional lender had triggered a rush of countries wanting to join as founding members, including developed economies outside the region like Germany, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, but excluding the United States and Japan.

Fifty countries have so far signed up as AIIB founding members and seven others -- including the Philippines -- have until yearend to do so. The Philippines, which has a simmering territorial spat with China over parts of the South China Sea, has said it will likely wait till yearend to decide whether to form part of AIIB’s roster of founding members as it examines the new institution’s governance structures.

Discussion on this topic will be led by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Asian Development Bank President Takehiko Nakao, World Bank Resident Representative to the Philippines Motoo Konishi and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua.

Also lined up on Tuesday are discussions on building competitive partnerships, to be led by Jemal Inaishvili, president of the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and sustaining small- and medium-scale enterprise growth, to be led by panelists like Jollibee Foods Corp. Chairman Tony Tan Caktiong and Nestlé Philippines Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Suresh Narayanan.

The conference will end with President Benigno S. Aquino III delivering his keynote address and response to the group’s recommendations for the year ahead. -- Victor V. Saulon