Singapore eyes increased investments, more flights to Manila

MANILA, Jan. 6 – The government of Singapore has expressed interest in further increasing its investments in the Philippines, as well as adding more flights to Manila in anticipation of increased demand in air travel between the two countries.

In a recent meeting with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Singaporean Ambassador to Manila Kok Li Peng said Singapore’s private sector would like to explore new growth opportunities in the Philippines, particularly in the retail, transportation, infrastructure and tourism sectors.

Ambassador Kok said Singaporean businessmen are planning to schedule the next meeting of the Philippines-Singapore Business Council (PSBC) in Davao City and, if possible, meet with President Duterte to discuss new business and investment activities in the Philippines.

“We’re trying to get a mixed meeting of the PSBC here. They want to bring the members to Davao to meet with the President,” Kok said, to which Dominguez responded that a possible date for such a dialogue could be in February.

Singapore’s investments in the Philippines–valued at P16.8 billion in 2015–are mostly in real estate activities, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply, and manufacturing.

Singapore was the Philippines’ fourth largest trading partner in 2015. The country’s total exports reached $3.8 billion in 2015, mainly comprising electronic products, petroleum products, and electronic equipment and parts.

The Philippines, in turn, imported a total of $5 billion worth of goods from Singapore in 2015, mostly mineral fuels, lubricants, food and live animals, and industrial machinery and equipment. Kok also said that Singapore is looking at the Philippines in exploring more markets for its airline industry.

“More competition is good for the consumer,” Kok said in explaining Singapore’s plan for its airline companies—Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Tiger Airways—to add more flights to the Philippines. In response, Dominguez, a former chairman of the Philippine Airlines, agreed that opening the Philippines’ air travel industry to competition and even partnerships with other airlines would benefit the economy and boost the growth of the tourism sector. Dominguez said the Duterte administration is “engaging more with ASEAN and countries around Asia” as a way to “move forward” and achieve a balance in strengthening the Philippines’ diplomatic ties with other nations across the globe.

In Beijing last October, Dominguez and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, who were part of the President Duterte’s delegation on his state visit to China, jointly announced that while the Philippines will maintain its good relations with Western economies, it will now push for “stronger integration” with its neighbors in the region.

The move, they said, will open for the Philippines countless opportunities for trade and investment in a market of 1.8 billion people across the region, especially now that other ASEAN economies have also committed to greater integration and China has pledged to open its capital markets.

ASEAN groups the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Both Dominguez and Kok agreed that technology and innovation are indispensable to sustaining growth under the current knowledge-based global economy.

“We’re now [living under] a knowledge-based economy. We think innovation is the way to go in the future,” Kok said. Dominguez said the rapid growth of online-based businesses and investments was among the reasons the Duterte administration considers it a priority to improve “interconnectivity and [internet] speeds” in the country.

“The structure of the industry (in the Philippines) right now is really holding us back. And it’s becoming quite obvious that the system now we have, where we basically have two service providers, is not really working,” Dominguez told Kok. In the meeting, Kok also informed Dominguez of Singapore’s request to review and update the terms of its 40-year old double taxation agreement with the Philippines. Dominguez assured Kok that he will discuss Singapore’s concerns regarding the double taxation agreement with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. (DOF-PIA)