MANILA, Philippines – The first time the Philippines hosted the Asia-Pacific leaders' summit in 1996, then-President Fidel Ramos vowed to help develop an action plan on facilitating free trade in the region.
As leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies gather in Manila for the second time after 19 years they will visit an economy that is about 3 times larger and to be hosted by a leader now seeking to spread the region’s prosperity to microentrepreneurs and poor farmers. (READ: Making region MSME-friendly could be APEC 2015's major success)
Over the years, the Philippines took advantage of the freer markets around the region. The eagerness of booming economies to open up their markets to developing countries, like the Philippines, is somehow linked to the country's major growth drivers – remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and the burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
Data from World Bank
"The Philippines has a very successful economic formula that worked well over the last 5 to 10 years. We've had a chance to grow as a country, but a lot has been led by consumer demand. We have a young population, remittances that come back, and burgeoning BPO industry," Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chairman and CEO of Ayala Corporation and a member of the 3-person APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), told Rappler in an interview on Wednesday, November 10.
Considered as a gain from the 1996 Philippine hosting of APEC is the fact that ABAC was formed following that summit. The country also convened the first APEC Business Forum (now the APEC CEO Summit, which will be held here from November 16 to 18).
All eyes on PH
As the Philippines' gross domestic product (GDP) expanded to $284.60 billion in 2014 from $82.85 billion in 1996, many member-economies are becoming interested in what’s fuelling the growth of the country, said Guillermo Luz, ABAC Philippines alternate member and co-chairman of the National Competitiveness Council.
"The Philippines will be the world's biggest stage for one week. APEC summit is a good networking event. If I take a look at the level of interest, over thousands of those who registered or 85% of them are from overseas," Luz told Rappler.
"They represent all 20 other member economies…. Many of them are first-timers here. I see large delegations from certain economies, like China, the US. We also have respectable size group from ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), so I'd like to think there is interest in finding out what's going on in the Philippines," Luz added.
For Tony Tan Caktiong, Jollibee founder and chairman, hosting the APEC summit this year provides the Philippines a chance to market itself as an investment destination.
"Over the last many years, we are in the news about being the darling of investments. The Philippines is growing; this is why there are many first-timers visiting the country. CEOs are looking for opportunities and investments, and hopefully, the Philippines will now be one of their places," Tan Caktiong told Rappler.
From disaster preparedness to mobility
Under this year's APEC theme Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World, the Philippines, along with 20 other member economies, has been pushing for inclusive growth and empowering micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), among others.
Zobel de Ayala added there was also "a whole debate on renewables and fossil fuels, the pricing of fossil fuels being lower than the renewables, and the need to provide environmental safeguards for fossil fuels."
The ABAC also touched on how to make the region more pedestrian-friendly, according to Tan-Caktiong. "Mobility is quite important to us. It gives more access for people to move around."
"It's just a great exchange of ideas between ministers and CEOs. I think it's rare to see that happen in an almost informal atmosphere. We discuss heavy topics but not in presentations, long scripts, or memos read to each other. It's just a good conversation we found of great value," Luz said.
Photo by Franz Lopez/ Rappler
Setting the tone
What APEC and ABAC are trying to do, according to Zobel de Ayala, is set a tone for inclusive growth wherein an average entrepreneur will have the confidence to compete in a bigger market than its local boundaries.
"The importance of APEC is learning from each other...on bringing down tariffs, making sure that things won't get in the way when it comes to facilitating free flow of goods. Generally, that's your aspiration. Rules are secondary. Everybody wants to strive for a higher growth agenda. That dialogue is alive and kicking," Zobel de Ayala said.
Luz added that ABAC local members hope that the increased participation of government officials and business leaders will greatly influence the streamlining of business policies here in the country, as it will further attract trade and investments in the coming years.
"Take note that 85% of our exports go to the rest of APEC, and around 70% of our investments come from APEC. That's a huge percentage, trade- and investment-wise. Local companies have exposure in other member economies, too. There’s a free flow of goods and people. It's a good thing. We benefit from it," Luz said. – Rappler.com