Last Monday, upon the invitation of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), I attended the 2nd Logistics Services Conference and Exhibition at the Philippine International Convention Center. I was invited as media and I attended the press conference led by Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez, flanked by leaders of various private industry associations and government officials from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Export development Council the International Finance Corp. ), and the DTI.
I am unfamiliar with the major issues of this sector, hence my curiosity about the conference. I was also intrigued by the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index (LPI) so I checked that biennial report. The index is composed of six factors — Customs, Infrastructure, International shipments, Logistics quality and competence, Tracking and tracing, and Timeliness.
I extracted from the Excel database the numbers for major Asian economies for the years 2010, 2014, and the latest report 2018. Germany is included in this list because it is the consistent No. 1. The Philippines has a bad trend — a declining score and declining global rank out of 160 countries and jurisdictions covered. In particular, its rank in Customs has fallen from 47th in 2014 to 85th in 2018. The good news is that its rank in infrastructure has somehow improved (see Table).
I know Secretary Mon Lopez — we are both members of the UP School of Economics Alumni Association and I spoke with him a few times. I know that he is solutions-oriented as the private sector and business competition had been his home for many years before joining the DTI.
Listening to him and many other speakers at the press conference, I was surprised that while it was the DTI that led this conference, many of the issues that cause headaches to players in the sector are outside the mandate and core concerns of DTI. Like lack of drivers for trucks, forklifts and heavy equipment (TESDA training), port congestion (Customs bureau, Department of Finance), truck ban and numbers coding ban (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority), long period to get vehicle franchises (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Department of Transportation), etc.
During the open forum, I asked if the advocacies by various stakeholders cover the wider macro-economic and intra-industry reforms like airlines and shipping lines liberalization, seaports and airports modernization, tollroads expansion nationwide. Secretary Mon said they do, that the administration’s Build, Build, Build programs address these infrastructure challenges, and investment liberalization measures are being advanced.
My impression now is that the DTI has become a sort of intermediary for many government agencies that tend to over-bureaucratize logistics players like truckers, freight forwarders, cargo handlers, airlines and shipping lines, to temper their itch to demand too many requirements and simplify these instead.
This should extend to infrastructure development. Too many permits and requirements — from local governments to various national agencies — to build or expand seaports, airports, tollways, power plants, dams and water sources, etc.
The goal of policy reforms should be the betterment of the consumers. More goods and services at lower cost and prices, reduced waste due to faster mobility of commodities from manufacturers and traders to end-users. Less government bureaucracies and more private competition, these will favour the consumers. Happy to see the DTI leading this.
Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the president of Minimal Government Thinkers.