LONDON — The Philippines is a “hugely exciting” market where the United Kingdom is keen on boosting reciprocal investment.
Key trade officials here bared this bright outlook, noting that the UK was setting its sights on Southeast Asia as a priority growth area amid the continuing dim prospects in Western economies.
They said the UK hoped to step up trade with growing markets to combat a general sense of pessimism over economic numbers here and in the euro zone.
Nick Baird, chief executive of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the state body that links UK firms to the global market, said that British firms were looking at ways to tap the Philippines’ robust economy and invest in major infrastructure, health care and retail-related projects.
“I think that for us, the huge opportunities there are certainly around big infrastructure projects, health… We’re also very interested in areas I would describe as building on and working with countries’ growing middle classes, so [it’s about] providing better education, health services, accessing the consumption of these middle classes through the retail sector,” Baird told Asean reporters on a visit here.
Enjoys Brits’ confidence
Baird said the Philippines enjoyed the confidence of the UK business community, particularly of Richard Lambert, former head of the UK employers group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and now chancellor of the University of Warwick, a top British university.
“We have a lot of very strong champions for the Philippine market. I was talking recently to Mr. Lambert, former head of CBI, which is our biggest business organization and he’s saying the Philippines is a hugely exciting market,” said Baird.
The Philippines is currently regarded among the world’s booming markets and is expected to retain in the second semester the 6.1-percent growth rate it posted in the first half of the year.
International credit ratings agencies Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings, and Standard and Poor’s upgraded the country’s rating to a notch just below investment grade, citing the Philippines’ steady growth pace.
The UK is sending a trade mission to the Philippines this week to touch base with the government and business sector and discuss possible partnerships in social infrastructure and transport.
Participating UK companies include Arup, Tata Steel International, Kier Construction, Tony Gee & Partners, GE Healthcare, Ryder Architecture, IMC Worldwide, SKM Colin Buchanan and KM&T, top firms in construction, design and architecture, project management and consultancy, services and supply chain management, according to the UK Embassy in Manila.
Total bilateral trade between the Philippines from January to August of this year was placed at 512.9 million British pounds (P33.8 billion), a five-percent growth over the same period last year.
‘Asean is very important’
Such an economic glow in the Philippines, also mirrored across the region, is a bright spot amid continuing economic troubles in the euro zone and the slow recovery in the United States. The latest UK growth rate was placed at one percent and the struggle to raise this is expected in the next few years.
“The Asean is really very important to us not just because this is such, collectively, a huge economy, comparable in size to China and Japan, bigger than India, but also because in many of the countries, we have good strong positive relationships,” Baird said.
Expand export capacity
He said the UK hoped to establish greater two-way trade with Asean firms, stepping up both export and inward investments. Currently, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are among the UK’s major trade and investment partners.
More than half of UK exports go to the developed but currently struggling markets and it has only a 1.2-percent share of imports in major growth markets, including the whole of Asean.
“Britain wants to hugely expand its export capacity, with particular focus on the growth markets and, in that, the Asean markets have a special place for us. And second, this is a country that is massively open to foreign investors and companies of all kinds. It’s very easy to set up business here,” he said.
He said the UK aimed to double its trade with each of the Asean countries by 2015. And while concerns about political stability, corruption and business ease may remain, the UK holds the view that there is “far less risk to trade with Asean than there is to trade with China, Africa or India,” he said.
Giving Asia attention
“We have been trading successfully in the last few years in our European backyard and with the United States, but of course those markets are still weak and we need to get much better trading into the big growth markets of Asia, Latin America and Africa,” Baird said.
The UKTI, through the year-old UK Asean Business Council, is hoping to facilitate this exchange through spreading greater Asean market awareness to UK firms, said the council’s executive director, Tom Burden.
“We are working on raising awareness of Asean markets in the UK. It’s really about giving Asia the attention it deserves,” Burden told reporters in a separate briefing.
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