Duterte looks to sign food security pact with Myanmar

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 18 2017 11:11 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte walks to the closing and handover ceremony for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Vientiane. Roslan Rahman, AFP

NAYPYIDAW – The Philippines is looking to sign an agreement on food security with Myanmar during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit here in the next two days.

“One important agreement may be signed between our governments namely, the Memorandum of Understanding on Food Security and Agricultural Cooperation,” said Philippine Ambassador to Myanmar Alex Chua.

Myanmar, like the Philippines, is an agricultural country.

This is contrary to a previous statement by Department of Foreign Affairs assistant secretary Charles Jose, who said that while there are "expected agreements to be signed" during Duterte’s visit to Thailand, there are none to be signed in Myanmar.

Duterte is expected to arrive in Myanmar late Sunday. He will be meeting with the local Filipino Community in the Capital of Naypyidaw. This is part of his introductory visit to neighbors in Southeast Asia.

Duterte's visit to Myanmar will be followed by a visit to Thailand on March 20 to 22.

Chua said that during this trip, Duterte will meet with Myanmar’s leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. He will also meet separately with President U Htin Kyaw, to discuss the strengthening of bilateral relations between the Philippines and Myanmar.

“In particular, the discussion will include talks on improving trade and investment relations. The meeting is a concrete manifestation of the Philippines’ continued support for countries in the region,” Chua said.

Duterte’s meeting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is to discuss regional cooperation, while a meeting with Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is to explore deepening of bilateral defense cooperation.

Chua said Filipinos in Myanmar are already anticipating the arrival of the president. Duterte won the majority among Filipinos in Myanmar, getting over 56 percent of votes.

Most of the Myanmar-based Filipinos who will be meeting Duterte will come all the way from the commercial capital of Yangon, 5 hours away from Naypyidaw.

“Ganun pa man, mahigit 250 ang nag-prisinta at nagparehistro na pupunta sa Naypyidaw sa unang araw pa lang matapos naming i-anunsyo ang paparating na pagbisita ng Pangulo,” he said.

Chua said the total number of Filipinos in Myanmar peaked at 1,848, nearly triple the 590 registrants in 2013. Chua told media that the Filipinos in Myanmar are professionals, working as teachers, lawyers, engineers and humanitarian workers.

Filipinos are well regarded in Myanmar, he said, as they contribute to the development of the economies of both the Philippines and Myanmar.

Duterte’s visit to Myanmar will come at the heels of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Philippines-Myanmar bilateral relations. Commemorative activities have been held beginning last year and the president’s visit to Myanmar this year is the culmination of the festivities.

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chair, Duterte’s Myanmar visit also symbolizes the Philippines’ commitment to the shared aspiration and values of the coalition, Chua said.

Myanmar and the Philippines first established bilateral relations in 1956.

Based on the Philippine Statistics Authority’s trade statistics, the Philippines’ top exports to Myanmar are medicaments or therapeutic or prophylactic uses, while the country’s major imports from Myanmar are agricultural products.

In 2016, the Philippines ranked as Myanmar’s 16th biggest investor. Some of the Philippine companies that have carved their own niche in this country include United Pharma, Liwayway Corporation, Asia Brewery, Splash Corporation, Manila Water, ComWorks, and Universal Robina Corp., to name a few.

Last year saw the entry in Myanmar of Phinma Education, along with leading clothing brands Bench and Penshoppe.