A DAY after the release of the 2019 World Competitiveness Report showing the Philippines partially recovering from a nine-notch fall on a list of 63 economies but still second to the last in Asia and the Pacific, President Rodrigo R. Duterte assured a gathering of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo of a “corruption-free” business environment in which he would meet “in 24 hours” with anyone who has a complaint about “hindrances, obstruction or outright corruption.”

Mr. Duterte is in Japan until May 31 partly for the Nikkei 25th International Conference on The Future of Asia.

“With our sound macroeconomic policies and reforms, we guarantee a competitive and corruption-free — and, I repeat, we guarantee a competitive and corruption-free — business climate, and a highly skilled and fast-learning workforce,” Mr. Duterte said in his speech.

“And as a matter of fact, I place my honor in what we promised to our partners, especially the Japanese and the Japanese people,” he added.

“… [M]ay I just assure you that, during my time… there will be no corruption, and every Japanese investor in my country — however small or however big — I can assure you that if there’s any complaint regarding hindrances, obstruction or outright corruption, let me know. I will give you at any hour of the day or night you can contact any of the Cabinet members or your Filipino lawyers or Filipino workers, and you can ask an audience with me in 24 hours and I will talk to you and just let me know what your problem is and we will kill that problem.”

Mr. Duterte also cited as Philippine priorities in its economic relations with Japan market access for produce like bananas, mangoes and pineapples; deployment of nurses and other health care workers; the Philippines as “a natural choice for Japanese companies looking for the manufacturing base in ASEAN, and aiming to serve the export markets of ASEAN, EU and the Americas, among others”; the Philippines as “an ideal base for high-value knowledge process outsourcing… ventures to support global operations of Japanese companies; as well as greater Japanese participation in the “Build-Build-Build” infrastructure program.

For his part, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in his speech that prior to the event “26 business agreements” were signed with “an estimated investment value of P288.804 billion or $5.511 billion” and expected to generate 82,737 jobs.

The list includes letters of intent with Tokyo Gas to build an inter-island liquefied natural gas distribution network; with Marubeni Corp. to develop infrastructure involving energy resource development, railways and water services; with Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd to “build a new facility for wiring harness and related products for export to Japan and north America”; with Toyota Motor Corp. for “additional investments for further parts localization” under the Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy Program; and between Mitsui & Company, Ltd and GT Capital Holdings, Inc. to “develop the Philippine automotive industry”; as well as a joint venture agreement between the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and the consortium of Meralco PowerGen Corp., Marubeni Corp., Kansai Electric Power Company, Inc. and Chubu Electric Power Co. for financing, design, engineering, construction, development and operation and maintenance of electricity distribution in New Clark City, among others.

Last year saw Philippine exports to Japan drop 4.9% year-on-year to $10.322 billion while imports from that country dipped 0.9% to $10.818 billion.

Central bank data showed that foreign direct investment net inflows dropped 4.4% annually to $9.802 billion last year. Investments from Japan, which accounted for 2.2% of the total, went up by 203.5% to $218.91 million last year from $72.13 million in 2017. — with A. L. Balinbin and M. T. Amoguis