The summer of 2012 proved a popular time for senior visits between The Philippines and the UK. The Lord Mayor of London, Alderman David Wootton, visited Manila in May and the president of the Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, visited London in June 2012. Both visits reflect the increasing importance of business links between the two countries.
President Aquino’s visit
President Aquino’s first, and so far only, visit to Europe gives a strong push to UK-Philippine relations. Business announcements demonstrate the depth of British commercial engagement across energy, power and aerospace.
President Benigno Noynoy Aquino visited London as a guest of the British Government on 5-6 June 2012, accompanied by seven of his cabinet ministers.
Arriving during the Jubilee celebrations, he and his party were able to meet the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary at No.10, attend a business lunch hosted by Jeremy Browne and the Lord Mayor of London, call on HRH the Duke of York, witness a number of UK-Philippines business deals being signed and pay a private visit to the Imperial War Museum.
A visit to St Pancras gave the president a close-up view of British infrastructure capability as the Philippines takes forward its PPP plans. As important as the programmed activities was the symbolism of President Aquino making his first ever visit to Europe, with London as the only stop.
The visit reinforced Britain’s position as leading EU investor in the Philippines. Shell signed an MoU with the Philippines government for a feasibility on LNG worth US$30m. A strong boost to exports was given with two other announcements: Rolls Royce signed a service support contract with Cebu Pacific worth US$280m and GazAsia signed an MoU with Aboitz for a Joint Venture for a biomethan project worth US$150m. The visit paved the way for inward visits by the Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Singson in June and Health Secretary Ona in July – both having a strong PPP focus.
The PM lobbied in support of a series of individual UK projects and issues. The Philippine side reacted positively. President Aquino painted an upbeat picture of the Philippines economy, with 6.4% growth in the first quarter. He hoped the number of UK companies doing business in his country would increase.
The Lord Mayor’s visit
Lord Mayor’s visit gives a strong push to UK engagement with Philippines, highlighting the relevance of the City to the Philippines’ economic development plans, especially in the area of infrastructure and PPP. Some promising areas for commercial follow-up were identified, including professional education and qualifications. Plaudits from Asian Development Bank for DfID and DECC.
The Lord Mayor of London visited Manila for a busy programme of high-level calls and speaking engagements on 21/22 May. As well as the civic party, he was accompanied by representatives of Standard Chartered, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) and the Philippines British Business Council. The delegation called on President Aquino (together with the Foreign Secretary, Finance Secretary and DTI Secretary), called on Secretary for Transport Mar Roxas, and met senior financial figures over dinner, including the insurance regulator, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairwoman, and the head of the PPP Centre (which oversees PPP projects for the government). He opened trading at the Philippine Stock Exchange and held discussions with its Chairman and President.
In these and separate speaking engagements with the legal community, the main Philippine business associations and the British Chamber of Commerce, Alderman Wootton delivered compelling messages about British engagement with the Asian emerging powers, and the relevance of the City offering to Philippine development needs.
UK expertise in PPP
Philippine Ministers highlighted the administration’s commitment to transparency and infrastructure development. The Finance Secretary paid tribute to the UK’s expertise in PPP, including the assistance provided by the Embassy and Infrastructure UK to shape Philippine thinking. It was confirmed that the first rail PPP (Light Rail Transit line 1) would be bid out this week. UK companies could bid for this and other projects alone; they did not have to partner with Philippine companies. The Philippine side identified other opportunities, from airport slot management, to rehabilitation of commuter rail links and conversion of buses to compressed natural gas.
Financial training and qualifications
The Finance Secretary, SEC Chair, Stock Exchange management and banking representatives showed significant interest in the financial qualifications provided by CISI. These qualifications meet a need in the local financial sector to strengthen capacity. CISI’s regional representative has already established some good leads which UKTI will help follow up.
Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE)
The Chairman confirmed the PSE’s commitment to strengthening corporate governance. They will establish a board with stricter listing standards than the main exchange: the ground-work for this was laid by an Embassy project with PSE. It also became clear that there is a real opportunity to help the Exchange upgrade its technical (i.e. fibre optic) connections to other exchanges, to support international trading. The City is well placed to respond to this need, and the party will follow up in London. There may be a similar opportunity to deliver services on a regional basis with other ASEAN exchanges.
Transparency and Corruption
At the Lord Mayor’s breakfast meeting with lawyers and legal practitioners there was interest in UK expertise in the area of anti-corruption and transparency, including the Bribery Act and opportunities to extend cooperation against money-laundering. We have been active in this area (including through the visit by SFO head Richard Alderman); the imminent entry into force of the UK-Philippine Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty will give efforts a further boost. We will explore opportunities to expand cooperation, given the extent to which corruption is an issue for British business here.
Asian Development Bank
The Lord Mayor called on the President and senior officials of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), headquartered in Manila. They were enthusiastic about their links with HMG, highlighting cooperation with DFID and DECC, and welcoming the UK’s contribution to replenishment of the Asian Development Fund (ADF) (we were the fourth largest contributor). Tribute was paid to UKTI’s work in linking British consultants and service providers to the Bank: in 2011 the UK was second only to the US in securing ADB contracts.
ADB staff expressed concern about the impacts of the Eurozone crisis on their work. ADB projects typically require long-term funding commitments in more difficult markets. Many banks were now stepping back from cross-border risk and ADB was finding it more difficult to mobilise longer term co-financing (though this was less of a problem with their UK lenders – HSBC, RBS etc).
It is six years since the last Lord Mayor visit, and with prospects for the Philippine economy and financial sector looking up, this was the right time to re-establish contact. The high-level access and excellent media coverage demonstrate the regard in which the UK is held here.
Credit to UKTI for reporting on the visits.