President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has invited American investors to do more business in the Philippines, giving his strongest commitment yet to the country’s long-standing alliance with the United States and indicating a major foreign policy shift after the pivot to China and Russia of his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte.
On the second day of his six-day US visit, Marcos addressed global investors and traders from the world’s financial center, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), as the special guest to ring the bell to close the day’s trading at 4 p.m. on Monday (4 a.m. on Tuesday in Manila).
“We have adjusted many of our ways of doing business at the behest of our friends in the United States and of the American businesses that are already in the Philippines,” he said in a forum hosted by NYSE vice chair John Tuttle and attended by his economic team and business executives, including several Filipino tycoons.
“I think that that will give us great opportunities in the future and for both our countries, for private corporations, for government-to-government agreements and arrangements,” he added.
He related his geopolitics discussion earlier during the business lunch hosted by the US-Philippine Society at The Brook Club, one of the oldest elite private clubs in New York.
“It is very clear to me in my vision for the way that the country will move forward, that I cannot see the Philippines in the future without having the United States as a partner,” Marcos said.
“When we are in crisis, we look to the United States. We look to the relationship that has been forged over the many years and I have to say the reason that we have done that is that for the most part we can say that the United States has not failed us,” he pointed out.
The president cited recent policies that further opened the Philippine economy, such as lowered corporate income tax rates and rationalized fiscal incentives; reduced minimum paid-up capital requirements for foreign retailers and foreign startups bringing in advanced new technology, and full foreign ownership of companies providing public services such as telecommunications, shipping, air carriers, railways, subways, airports and toll roads.
He said his administration was seeking partnerships in public infrastructure such as mass transit systems, airports, toll roads; in public services; in digitization initiatives; in energy development; and agriculture modernization.
He offered investment opportunities for American businesses in areas such as information technology and business process management or IT-BPM; medical products and devices; electric vehicles and batteries; agribusiness, and telecommunications infrastructure and services.
“We are all thrilled to be here. We’re familiar with the New York Stock Exchange and the bell and that most important balcony in the world. We had always watched it from afar,” said Marcos, who later signed the guest book reserved for dignitaries and rang the closing bell from the balcony of the trading floor.
He was joined by first lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, the president’s son Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos, Speaker Martin Romualdez, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual, Aboitiz Group CEO Sabin Aboitiz, and Tuttle.
The Philippine flag was hoisted at the façade of the historic NYSE building and shown on the screen of the trading floor.
Aboitiz, whom Marcos designated as head of the Private Sector Advisory Council, was one of the 30 representatives of the Philippine business community selected to accompany the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)-led government delegation to the United States.
According to a statement from the Aboitiz Group, the Philippine business delegation included International Container Terminal Services Inc. chair and president Enrique Razon Jr.; Metro Pacific Corp. chair and president Manuel V. Pangilinan; San Miguel Corp. president and CEO Ramon Ang; Ayala Corp. chair Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala; JG Summit Holdings Inc. president and CEO Lance Gokongwei; Magsaysay Group president and CEO Doris Ho, and SM Prime Holdings director Hans Sy, among others.
Earlier in the day, he met with executives of American companies NuScale Power, which designs and markets small modular reactors; Wastefuel, which is into waste-to-fuels technology, and Boeing, one of the world’s biggest aerospace manufacturers and defense contractors, urging them to invest in the Philippines.
The president’s convoy arrived at the NYSE just as a group of Filipino-American protesters shouting anti-Marcos martial law chants converged in the street in front of the NYSE which was only closed to motorists but remained open to pedestrians.
With US Secret Service agents around, the protesters were just a few meters away as they heckled Mr. Marcos when he alighted from his vehicle.
The same group also held a protest outside the venue of Marcos’ meeting with members of the Filipino community at the New Jersey Performing Arts Hall on the first day of his visit.
The protesters, who were denouncing Marcos’ father, the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, and former President Duterte, dispersed more than an hour before the presidential convoy arrived.
In Manila, two of the biggest export groups said on Tuesday that they welcomed the president’s trip to the United States as it bodes well for businessmen in both countries.
“It is good. This is like public relations. This is to remind the US that we are still here,” Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines (Fobap) president Robert Young told the Inquirer over a phone interview.
Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (Philexport) president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. agreed, saying that a goodwill visit was a positive move by the current administration.
“It shows that we are ready to work with them,” Ortiz-Luis said in a separate phone interview with the Inquirer.
Young said he was hoping that the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) could be tackled at the sidelines of one of the meetings because of its importance to local exporters.
“It expired almost two years ago. They have not extended it for some reason,” said Young. The trade program, which gives preferential tariff rates on US imports from eligible countries, was last granted to the Philippines in March of 2018 under former US President Donald Trump. It expired on Dec. 31, 2020.
“They (US buyers) will not be buying more because they pay (import) duties now with the GSP suspended. They told me they would be deducting the quantity that they are buying,” Young said, recalling a conversation with one of their US clients.
According to the DTI, Philippine exports to the western country under the GSP totaled $1.73 billion in 2019.