Poor left behind, jobs scarce as Philippines takes off: experts

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 26 2014 10:46 PM | Updated as of Feb 27 2014 08:55 PM

MANILA - The Philippines should create more investment opportunities in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and mining to escape the curse of jobless economic growth, experts and businessmen said Wednesday.

Economic growth in the Philippines has been among the highest in Asia in recent years. But the benefits have escaped the vast majority, particularly farm workers, they told an economic forum.

"If you want a major increase in employment, you have to broaden your basis of growth," Julian Payne, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, told the forum sponsored by foreign chambers of commerce.

He said there must be more opportunities in "sectors that really have huge potential in long-term employment generation" such as agri-business, manufacturing, mining and tourism -- with only the latter currently enjoying some success.

The economy grew 7.2 percent last year, the fastest since President Benigno Aquino came to power in 2010.

However the foreign chambers of commerce said 22.3 percent of families still lived in poverty, barely changed from the figure in 2009.

The rate of unemployment and underemployment as of October last year was 24.4 percent, down only slightly from the previous year, government statistics showed.

While they gave Aquino credit, the heads of the country's foreign chambers of commerce said his reforms did not go far enough or were too slow.

While foreign direct investment in the Philippines had picked up, it was still lagging far behind its peers in Southeast Asia, they added.

"Competitiveness in the country is getting better but it is not enough," said Takashi Ishigami, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce.

He and other foreign businessmen said the Philippines should scrap restrictions on foreign investment, keep the minimum wage from rising and further cut bureaucracy to bring the the country to the same level as the rest of the region.

World Bank economist Rogier van den Brink said the Philippines needed to create 14.6 million more jobs for those already unemployed and underemployed, on top of those who join the labour force each year.

He said entrenched groups in the country were resisting competition and preventing the economy from opening up.

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