By Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan

FOREIGN BUSINESS chambers in the country yesterday set the tone for engagement with the over one-year-old government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, unveiling reform proposals under their continuing “Arangkada Philippines” initiative that was launched in 2010 at the beginning of the previous administration.

In their Sept. 14 annual report, titled: “Implementing the 10-point agenda” — referring to guideposts the current government has adopted in order to spur overall economic growth faster and reduce the ranks of the poor when it ends its term in mid-2022 — the seven members of the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC) said this year’s recommendations were drawn from unfinished reforms in past “Arangkada” (accelerate) lists, the government’s own blueprint as especially contained in the 2017-2022 Philippine Development Plan, as well as inputs from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines “and other sources.”

The JFC said its “extensive menu of policy suggestions” is designed to ensure that “the Philippines will be rated in future years much closer to the other ASEAN-6 economies that it currently lags behind,” referring to bigger economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The reforms are grouped under the topics: continuing the macroeconomic agenda; increase competition and the ease of doing business; infrastructure building; rural development; human capital development and reproductive health; science, technology, and arts; and poverty alleviation and social protection program.

Recommendations include various tax reforms, pushing the government “to double” gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate to nine percent (compared to 7-8% officially targeted up to 2022), “supported by a clear long-term industry policy”; growing merchandise exports by 15% a year (compared to 5-9% annually under official targets until 2022); strengthening delivery of microfinance and micro-insurance products and services; improving transparency and the regulatory environment; opening up further telecommunications, retail and public utilities; an aspiration for foreign direct investments to exceed $10 billion partly by making the Foreign Investment Negative List “more positive” by reducing restrictions; creation of independent regulators for railways, airports and seaports; improving the public-private partnership framework “to free up fiscal space,” speeding up power projects and drafting a renewable energy road map; mass transit systems for Cebu and Davao cities; reviewing the average effective tax rate for large-scale mining to make sure it is not more than what is imposed across Asia and the Pacific; increasing the public education budget to four percent of GDP; further revising curricula to narrow the skills-jobs mismatch; allowing foreign schools to operate and foreigners to teach in the Philippines; as well as reducing fertility rate to 2.1% in 2022 from 3.1% in 2015.

“I think at this stage, there is progress being made,” American Chamber of Commerce Senior Advisor John D. Forbes said in a press conference yesterday at the sidelines of the “Arangkada” report launch in Manila Marriott Hotel in Pasay City.

“But the question is: is it going to continue and increase the pace?”