US firms urged to invest in PH, Asean infra projects

By Louella D. Desiderio, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 23 2013 08:46 AM | Updated as of Feb 23 2013 05:25 PM

MANILA, Philippines - American firms are urged to take part in infrastructure projects in the Southeast Asian region, including the Philippines, given the availability of opportunities in that sector, a US official said.

Speaking at the Makati Business Club’s General Membership Meeting yesterday, Jose W. Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic and business affairs of the US Department of State said he would like more American firms to participate in infrastructure projects in the region as there are several opportunities available.

Citing estimates of the Asian Development Bank, Fernandez said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would require $60 billion a year for infrastructure over the next decade to meet the needs of the region to grow, presenting a huge opportunity for American companies.

American firms, however, are currently not tapping the huge opportunity available.

“American companies are world leaders in a number of areas that are needed in this part of the world and frankly, in my view, they are not taking advantage of those opportunities,” he said.

A number of firms from other parts of the world such as Korea, China, Spain and Brazil are, however, taking advantage of the available opportunities.

“Part of my message to my companies when I get back home is there is an opportunity here. You have to find ways of taking advantage of those opportunities,” Fernandez said.

Apart from encouraging more American firms to take part in infrastructure projects in the ASEAN, Fernandez said they also intend to encourage firms from the Asian region to invest in their country as part of deepening the relationship between the US and the ASEAN.

The ASEAN region is a major avenue of interest for the US given its strong economic performance.

While trade between the US and ASEAN is already quite strong, Fernandez said the US wants to continue to engage with the region.

US exports to the region exceeded $76 billion last year, making it the fifth largest destination of shipments.

Fernandez said the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement which seeks to further liberalize 11 economies in the Asia-Pacific region, offers huge economic opportunities for the ASEAN.

The comprehensive agreement, which is expected to enhance trade and investment among partner countries, as well as promote innovation, economic growth and support creation and retention of jobs, is slated for a new round of negotiations next month.

The Philippines is currently not part of the negotiations, but Fernandez said the US would continue to encourage the country to see how it could join the TPP.

“The TPP may be an agreement with high standards but it is an agreement that is open to everyone in the region that is prepared to meet those high standards,” he said.

“We’ve encouraged and will continue to encourage the government of the Philippines to enter into comprehensive technical discussions with TPP nations in order to identify areas of reform that are required in the TPP high standards,” he said further.