MANILA – The Philippines should continue to improve its business processes to encourage more foreign investors to enter the market, former finance secretary Jose Isidro Camacho said.
Camacho, who is currently vice chairman at Credit Suisse Asia Pacific, said compared to neighboring countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam, foreign direct investments in the Philippines is still quite low.
“We just need to continue opening up. We need to get our approval processes much faster. If people are proposing to build new power plants, by all means, let’s try to facilitate that and make sure it happens,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN’s Karen Davila.
“There’s demand to invest in the Philippines, I think we need to open the doors a bit wider and be more effective in welcoming these investors in,” he added.
In full-year 2013, the Philippines posted $3.9 billion in FDIs, lagging behind FDI inflows in Singapore ($60 billion); Indonesia ($18 billion); and Thailand ($13 billion). Data for FDI inflow in 2014 is still being compiled.
Camacho said government should review policies on foreign ownership in several industries, including land and media.
“I think there are many industries that we should really review and say, ‘Is it really strategic?’ It’s not the military, it’s just a business, so why not allow foreign investors the same privileges as the domestic investors,” he said.
Camacho believes the Philippine economy will continue to grow at a fast pace this year and in coming years, despite missing government’s target of a 6.5-7.5 percent growth in 2014.
“Needless to say, we are the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia and we should focus on that, and we should focus on what have we done right that has allowed us to grow at a much faster rate,” he said.
The Philippine economy grew by 6.1 percent last year, slower than the 7.2 percent growth in 2013.
But Camacho is optimistic that the economy will continue to perform well driven by aggressive investments by local conglomerates and growing consumption.
“The contribution of investments in our economy I think has grown. It has been driven by private sector corporate investments. And that to me is promising because it tells you that there is a lot more potential,” he said.
He also lauded efforts by the Aquino administration in “changing the mindset of Filipinos and international investors” in terms of doing business in the country.
“That’s very remarkable, and if that were his only accomplishment, I think we should all be happy with his presidency because changing that mindset, giving us a good reputation around the world should make us all very proud,” he said.
With only a year left before the end of President Aquino's presidency, Camacho hopes that the next administration can sustain growth, regardless of who is in power.
"I hope that the economy and the country has matured enough over the last couple of decades where [who the president is] should be less and less important," he said.
Camacho served as finance secretary for two years under the Arroyo administration.