Businessmen urge action, say ‘honeymoon’ over

by Jessica Anne D. Hermosa, BusinessWorld

Posted at Oct 29 2010 12:37 AM | Updated as of Oct 29 2010 08:37 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Declaring the honeymoon period over, business leaders from 7 key sectors on Thursday pressed the Aquino administration on reforms to ensure that rosy outlooks for the year will be sustained in the long run.

Most industries are primed to end 2010 with growth due to a global pickup but bottlenecks caused by the strengthening peso, dwindling productivity, a dearth in infrastructure and unclear government policies need to be addressed, speakers told a conference hosted by the American and European chambers of commerce.

The event was held ahead of the Joint Foreign Chambers’ submission to Malacañang next month of a 400-page roadmap hinged on so-called "seven big winners": agribusiness, business process outsourcing (BPO), power, transport infrastructure, manufacturing, mining and tourism.

The speakers were generally upbeat on 2010 prospects for areas ranging from agriculture and mineral exports, tourism arrivals and new BPO jobs.

Roberto C. Amores, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s vice-president for agriculture, noted that food exports picked up in August while Chamber of Mines President Benjamin Philip G. Romualdez remarked on the 36% growth of his industry in the first half.

"And more investments are flowing in. More projects are coming on stream ahead of schedule," Mr. Romualdez claimed.

The tourism sector, meanwhile, expects 10% growth in arrivals this year to 3.7 million despite a botched hostage rescue last August that led to the deaths of eight Hong Kong nationals, former Philippine Travel Agencies Association President Jose C. Clemente III said.

Oscar R. Sañez, Business Process Outsourcing Association of the Philippines chief executive, reiterated that his sector was poised to create some 500,00 jobs this year over the 440,000 generated in 2009.

But these gains will not be sustained unless the government addresses long-standing concerns, the businessmen said.

"We need more than 1,000 kilometers of toll roads just like Thailand," Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. President Ramoncito S. Fernandez said, noting that the Philippines has only 300 kilometers in comparison.

"If we can double this in five years, that’s a noble achievement already," Mr. Fernandez said, adding that the government needs to "fast track the right of way process."

The government must also promote retail competition in the power market and make the environment for long-term power purchase deals more attractive as these two thrusts could lower electricity prices, said Daniel E. Chalmers, GN Power Ltd. Co. chairman.

Some called for increasing pressure on trade partners that undervalue their currencies at the cost of the Philippine economy and also better forecasting to help firms here cope with the strengthening peso.

"I would encourage Filipinos to voice concern over controlled currencies in the region," American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Senior Adviser John D. Forbes said.

Speakers went on to call for increased state spending for agriculture infrastructure, a roadmap to develop manufacturing, and a fresh marketing campaign to lure tourists.

Consistency between national and local government policies for mining is likewise needed, Mr. Romualdez said.