The Philippines is positioning itself as Taiwan’s “gateway” to Southeast Asia and hopes to spur two-way economic and educational exchanges with Taiwan, Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei (MECO) director for commercial affairs Michael Alfred Ignacio said.
Ignacio said he has seen “very strong interest” from the Taiwanese government in advancing its New Southbound Policy and Taiwan was the second-largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Philippines last year.
The southbound policy, adopted in May 2016, aims to forge links with ASEAN members, as well as South Asian nations, Australia and New Zealand.
Taiwanese FDI in the Philippines last year was 10.833 billion pesos (US$203.12 million at the current exchange rate), about a sevenfold increase from 1.608 billion pesos in 2016 and double the amount that Taiwan invested in 2015, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data showed.
“We want to become Taiwan’s gateway to Southeast Asia and New Southbound countries,” Ignacio said.
The Philippines is Taiwan’s closest neighbor, its economy is growing at a strong pace, English is the main language of business and it has a market of 104 million people, making it a good country to partner with in the search for engagement with southbound countries, Ignacio said.
The Philippines has “been working very closely with Taiwan’s government to make [the policy] a reality,” said Ignacio, who started in the position 11 months ago.
Under the southbound policy and Manila’s strategy to engage Taiwan economically, partnerships are starting to materialize, he said.
In terms of industrial capacity building, for example, Taiwan has helped train Philippine engineers to develop the Philippines’ industrial capabilities and bolster its participation in the global electronics, manufacturing and Internet of Things supply chains, he said.
The countries also cooperate in industries where the Philippines has the best chance of success, such as shared service facilities aimed at improving the competitiveness of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and IC design, Ignacio said.
He said the Philippines also wants to increase two-way trade and exchanges in education.
Taiwan ranked as the Philippines’ eighth-largest trading partner with bilateral trade of US$7.19 billion, PSA data showed.
It was also the country’s 10th largest export market and the eighth-largest exporter to the Philippines, the data showed.
A key initiative has been to intensify efforts to introduce Philippine products on Taiwan’s mainstream market, Ignacio said, a shift from what he called the “xenocentric” approach of importing products to Taiwan to sell in Philippine stores and to Philippine expatriates.
MECO is hosting an in-store promotion at City Super in Taipei for a second year running to showcase a variety of Philippine specialties, including snacks that go back to Spanish colonial days, such as chicharron, ethnic products, dried mangoes, pineapple juice, mango liquors and coconut oil, he said.
The office was involved in handpicking the items that have the most potential to succeed with Taiwanese consumers, he added.
The in-store promotion follows a visit in March by a delegation of Philippine food exporters to explore the Taiwanese market at the annual Sourcing Taiwan trade show and is to be followed by a large exhibition of Philippine products at the upcoming Taipei International Food Show from Wednesday to Saturday next week.
In terms of educational exchanges, the office has promoted the Philippines as a destination for Taiwanese students to study English, communications, literature, and the humanities and arts, Ignacio said.
“We want to promote our expertise, so we can help each other,” he said. “The Philippines offers excellent education and studying in the Philippines is very cheap.”
“We have a successful proof of concept with Japan and Korea,” Ignacio said. “Japanese and Koreans have been studying English in the Philippines for maybe 20 years. Why not Taiwanese?”
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