FOREIGN business chambers in their eighth annual forum on Thursday outlined their recommendations for improvements in the country’s tourism, agribusiness and power sectors.

For the power sector, recommendations include resolving issues such as the high cost of power in the country, slow rollout of retail electricity competition and the government’s plan to adopt nuclear power.

“I think the most important is to ensure that we have power for everybody because the most expensive one is the one you don’t have. We need to have a proper plan,” Nabil Francis, president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said in an interview at the sidelines of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines’ (JFC) The Arangkada Philippines Forum 2019 at the Manila Marriott Hotel.

Noting that “[t]his country is a fantastic engine for growth,” Mr. Francis, who is president and chief executive officer of Republic Cement Services, Inc., said: “Just the demography shows that there’s gonna be a huge increase in terms of power consumption — almost two percent growth per year of the population.”

For American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. Senior Adviser John D. Forbes, “[t]he process, the gestation period” for approving new baseload plants “is very long.”

“There should be new ones under construction now,” Mr. Forbes said in a separate interview, noting that a number of such projects in the pipeline “are too-long delayed,” while “…the number of yellow and red alerts is quite high so we’re watching out for power shortages in the future.”

Keiichi Matsunaga, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, said the high cost of power is a concern even if this is offset by low labor cost. “We need government’s strong initiative to reduce the cost because the price of power per kilowatt-hour is very similar to Japanese price,” said Mr. Matsunaga, who is also general manager of the Manila branch of Mitsubishi Corp., even as he said that Japanese investors in the Philippines are more concerned with the tax regime and labor cost.

Among others, while the chambers said in their recommendations that “[a] regulatory framework for nuclear power generation is needed to consider its use” and “[a] solid framework serves as a decision point on whether or not to utilize nuclear technology,” Mr. Francis said the country’s nuclear aspirations should be “carefully studied.”

The JFC also proposed a well-studied capacity and reserve planning program and effective outage management. It called on government to eliminate regulatory risk for exploration and production of indigenous sources of energy, stimulate the adoption of e-vehicles, among others.

JFC’s recommendations for tourism focus on sustainable tourism and seamless travel through better infrastructure. Mr. Forbes said the government should make sure that “we don’t have such a large number of tourists in certain attractive destinations that are more than the destinations can handle… [while] at the same time increasing the volume of tourists.”

Agribusiness recommendations focused on financing, infrastructure and raising productivity, including inclusive financing for small farmers and fisherfolk as well as expanded private sector investments in post-harvest facilities, cold storage, and food terminals. The JFC also pushed for more public investment in farm-to-market roads, bridges and irrigation systems. — Jenina P. Ibañez and Victor V. Saulon