THE WORLD is fast becoming borderless, at least economically speaking. Free-trade agreements between and among nations are flourishing because of the tremendous economic benefits these bring to the participating countries.
For Philippine companies, being familiar with or aware of what is happening outside their business areas of operation is, or should be, a must. This is why it was disappointing to note the Philippines’ barely-there participation in the Asian Financial Forum (AFF) held last week in Hong Kong.
This year’s edition of the annual AFF was attended by more than 2,600 government officials, investors, academics, and top managers of multinational corporations from 38 countries and regions, as well as 500 journalists. Of the participants listed, only two were from the Philippines: the CEO of a little-known financial advisory company called Miraizo Group Inc., and a lawyer who teaches at the University of the Philippines and the Far Eastern University. In contrast, there were several participants from our neighbors in Asean, particularly Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Philippines’ presence last year was better, with two leading Filipino executives in the roster of speakers: Jollibee founder Tony Tan Caktiong and SM Group heiress Tessie Sy. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima was in the program as a speaker, but he cancelled at the last minute. This year, the lone Filipino speaker at the AFF was Ayala Corp. chair and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.
Organized by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the two-day forum featured more than 90 prominent speakers from government, business and finance worldwide. At the top of the list was Ben Bernanke, former chair of the US Federal Reserve Board.
Aside from gathering financial and business opinion leaders to share their views on economic issues and prospects, the AFF also provided a platform for participants to explore investment opportunities. The HKTDC tapped the Hong Kong Venture Capital and Private Equity Association to organize the AFF Deal Flow Matchmaking Session, and noted that more than 570 meetings were arranged for some 370 investment project owners, private equity firms, companies, investors, high-net-worth individuals and professionals.
The event also featured the Global Investment Zone, where participants explored investment opportunities and high-quality investment projects through the participation of investment promotion agencies from 12 countries, including Asean’s Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand and Laos. Last year, the Bataan economic zone participated in this segment of the AFF. None of the various Philippine ecozones joined this year.
What made AFF 2016 more important was the focus on the “Belt and Road Initiative,” a multiyear, China-led initiative that will see trillions of dollars invested in infrastructure projects all over Asia, Europe and Africa. Other noted speakers included Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich; Luxembourg’s Minister of Finance Pierre Gramegna; Sweden’s Minister for Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs and Deputy Minister for Finance Per Bolund; and Thailand’s Vice Minister for Finance Kiatchai Sophastienphong. They joined HKSAR Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury K. C. Chan in discussing the challenges and opportunities in Asia, including the implications arising from collaborative initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which the Philippines is the newest member.
Ayala Corp.’s Zobel de Ayala, who joined the discussion on the economic prospects of Asean and the possible impact of China’s global economic initiatives to the region, agreed that investment is key to the future of all nations and that the Philippines needed to do something to bring the numbers up. He said regional cooperation agreements would help increase investment flows and that the Ayala Group was in favor of what was happening on that regional cooperation front.
Some countries do still have restrictive investment laws, and Zobel de Ayala said the Philippines was one of them. He expressed the belief that the government should open Philippine markets. The same should be true for Filipino businessmen. They cannot forever think local as their neighbors in the region are already going global.
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