Opening Message by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. for the courtesy call of the US-ASEAN Business Council

Speeches 9 August 2023

Thank you all very much. Welcome to the Philippines and those of you who have come here for the first time.

Again, I’m very happy to be able to welcome all of the US-ASEAN Business Council members who are here with us today.

There’s a great deal that I think we can use these meetings for. There’s a great deal I think that we can achieve. We have made great strides in strengthening our bilateral relations.

For example, with the US, our engagements are now grounded on two-pronged very simple foreign policy approach and that is the promotion of peace and of course the protection of the national interest.

By shoring up our individual and collective capabilities, we are able to advance our countries’ as well as the Indo-Pacific Region’s security, stability, and economic prosperity.

As a testament to the positive momentum in our bilateral relations, President Biden and I have identified concrete steps to ensure that our alliance and partnership remains relevant, responsive to current emerging challenges in the defense, security, and economic spheres.

The evolution of geopolitics and the global economy have lumped all of these elements together, we cannot [approach?] any of these elements separately without seeing the effects that one has on the other.

The US remains the leading strategic trading and investment partner in the Philippines. We certainly value the US’ contributions to our economic development and our post-pandemic recovery and we are fortunate that our economic goals complement those of the US and since taking office, I have made it clear that supporting agriculture and food security, promoting energy security, transitioning to clean energy, boosting trade, and increasing the resilience of our supply chains, enhancing connectivity and digitalization amongst others are our priority areas that will set the direction of our economic policies.

To that end, I have called for the enhanced Philippine and US economic engagement to boost two-way trade and investment, especially in critical sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, clean energy, including nuclear energy, green metals and critical minerals, IT-[BPM], and semiconductors all while building economic resilience in the face of climate change, the pandemics, humanitarian response, and other security challenge.

I certainly welcome the U.S. government’s commitment to follow through with major economic initiatives and it is my hope that we will be able to see them come into fruition in the succeeding months.

We hope to cement the Philippines’ position as a strategic partner of the United States, in terms of processing critical minerals for battery applications, and we hope to move the Philippines from the upstream to the midstream in battery development and supply chain.

I hope that with your support, the Philippines can avail itself of the incentives under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, to allow us to strengthen the global supply chains of critical [minerals]. I had promising discussions with Senator Tammy Duckworth just yesterday, on this very issue and we will continue to discuss this with the U.S. at the State level.

The Philippines is actively participating in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the APEC meetings leading up to the Leaders’ Summit in San Francisco in November.

I look forward to joining fellow APEC Leaders in California later this year. This will be my third trip to the U.S. since I assumed office.

With energy security high in the economic agenda, we are particularly interested in sustainable land, water, and ocean solutions that align with our climate goals and support our plans to transform the Philippines into an upper Middle-Income Country by the year 2025.

All efforts to increase the number of power sources lean towards clean energy. That being the case, I am interested in the potential of nuclear energy, especially in light of new technologies and innovations that allow the use of smaller scale, modular, nuclear reactors, and other advanced [reactors] technologies that we see as being safer and more efficient than the more traditional designs of nuclear power production.

Leading the charge are our ongoing discussions with the United States on the 123 Agreement, which will provide the legal framework for civil and nuclear-related investments, particularly nuclear power, in our country.

Together with the United States and other partners, especially the private sector, we will build the necessary infrastructure to help power a growing economy, as we transition to clean and renewable energy.

We recognize the rule that we have set for ourselves that is the slow transition and it is slow.

We all have great hopes that the transition to renewables will be easy or simple. It turns out that is not going to be the case and we have to be realistic in this regard.

And so, the rule we [applied?] for ourself is first of all is that we must be able to provide sufficient power for the development of our industry, sufficient power so that we can expand the economy, and it must be accompanied by a continuing effort to move our power sources from the traditional fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.

I hope to see more engagements involving both our governments and private sectors, especially in mobilizing financial resources for investments in key areas such as critical infrastructure, research and development, and human capital development.

I hope we can count on your support for this. I cannot stress more how important private sector support has been to all the planning that we have done. One of the key features of the economic policies since I took office is that we have initiated, we started what we call a whole-of-government approach.

Seeing the problems that we face post-pandemic and with Ukraine — the Ukraine developing and evolving situation in the war in Ukraine.

We have put front and center in terms of our plans of transforming the economy — strong partnerships with the private sector. We started as I’ve said with the whole-of-government approach, wherein government approach every problem, every challenge, every new program, not with a single department, not with a single agency but bringing to bear as many of those agencies that may be relevant to that particular program and that has been a multiplier effect.

So, we have extended this now to what we call the whole-of-nation approach and that’s why the private sector has been recognized as critical partner if we are to continue the transformation of our economy.

My economic managers and I have been pursuing and implementing reforms to attract more foreign investment and expand commerce not only domestically but of course also globally.

I am happy to report that the Philippines is on track not only for economic recovery but to achieving an upper-middle economic status within a couple of years.

Despite global economic headwinds, our GDP post-pandemic defied predictions through sound economic and fiscal policies, responsive reforms, and an enabling economic environment that drove commerce and domestic consumption.

We would like to continue the trend of the growth in terms of the growth of our economy, our GDP in the coming years. We have done reasonably well and in the past year also. But there are some new forces that have come into play. Not least of which is the cancelling of the Black Sea agreement by Russia in terms of the export of agricultural products.

And the effect has been once again has reached all the way across the [inaudible] and we are beginning to feel the effect of that as food prices continue to be volatile. And unfortunately volatile in — to be higher in terms of pricing.

And we have identified agriculture as a priority, the first priority action. Not only because it is absolutely necessary that the State is able to feed its own people, its own populace and to provide the food supply in a pricing structure that is actually affordable to people. And that is — but beyond the primordial mission of feeding the populace.

The economic analyst have made it very clear that any transformation and any industrialization cannot really take place unless our agricultural sector is secured, our agricultural sector is robust, and our agricultural sector is efficient.

And to that end we have slowly been working to improve the value chain of our agricultural sector, all the way from research and development to providing financing, providing the inputs to our farmers, providing the new technologies, the new techniques and new strategies for farming.

Of course, we have encountered problems of course, especially the livestock because of the prevalence and the contagion of the swine flu and the avian flu. But these are the things that we are working towards and again the private sector is absolutely critical partner in that regard.

So despite headwinds, our GDP post-pandemic has been able to do reasonably well because of all that we have done. We hope to continue that growth trend in the Philippines in terms of our GDP.

We were originally, as in the estimate of the World Bank, originally for the Philippines was 5% growth for this year, that has been upgraded to 6%. There are new shocks that have come in but I think we can take measures to continue the growth rate of our economy.

Well, this came from aggressive infrastructure projects. We have undertaken perhaps the largest infrastructure program that the Philippines has seen, especially in terms of funding that has been appropriated by our legislature for this year and for the next year.

We have reformed the bureaucracy so as to be more attuned to the way that we do business today.

I always say that the people have said that we would like to recover the economy and I immediately disagree so that… I do not want to recover the economy. I do not want to be where we were in September 2019. I want to be where we should be for 2026 or 2028.

We have to recognize that it is a different situation that we are facing now, the world has changed. COVID changed everything and we must resign ourselves to that difficult fact and that’s what we are trying to do, to look forward and to see how the evolution of our [economies?] are our goal.

In the region, in ASEAN, for example, with leaders have come to a consensus, very clear consensus that what we really need to do if we are to regain the leadership and economic development for the rest of the world as we have in 2019, 2018 but we were the most [inaudible] in this region was the most aggressive in terms of trade, in terms of growth.

To return to that, the very first thing that we must do is improve our connectivity. Now, we tend to think, when we say connectivity within digital. Well, that applies as well.

But physical connectivity now is the key — connectivity by air, by land, by sea. And that is what we are hoping to achieve in the next meetings with ASEAN, amongst the leaders, amongst our business partners. And this I think is the right — I think that we have made the right decision in that regard. I think we are going down the correct road.

And by we, I mean as ASEAN. That we must develop first the infrastructure. We must develop first the basic bones of our economy and in the way that is required by the new global economy post-pandemic.

So, these are the elements that we have tried together to continue the growth rate of the Philippines. We have decided very early on that we will — although we worry about our debt-to-GDP ratio in the Philippines, as it stands it’s about 63% and that’s a little high for us and it is not ideal.

We’re doing better than our neighbors perhaps but nonetheless, it’s still something that we need to be looking at. And the way that we believe we can pull ourselves out of that debt ratio and improve that debt ratio is through growth.

And that is why we are working very hard to continue with that growth trend. We are however beset by the problems of inflation and that is why the monetary policy has been quite robust and increasing.

But then we worry about the constriction of the economy by very high interest rates and so this is something that we have to balance.

But in terms of the ordinary man on the street, inflation of course is — they do not worry about the debt-to-GDP ratio. They just know that the prices of everyday goods, products that they need for their everyday life is just going up. Fuel is going up. We just had another increase today. So, these are the balls that we have jumping in the air.

And I don’t think it is just the Philippines that is in that condition. I think it is really the rest of the world. We all have to try and find new ways to address the problems that we are facing as the nature of those problems is different from what they were a few years ago.

And the other overwhelming factor now, especially here in the Philippines is the effects of climate change. I have said it before, I think [unclear] that no discussion certainly at my level can we have and can be complete without touching upon climate change. It affects everything. It affects our healthcare system. It affects our infrastructure program. It affects our educational program, who goes to school, who doesn’t go to school, who can…

All of the — every little sector in our society. The everyday life of our people. Maybe they do not know. But from my point my view, sitting here where I am, I can see that every aspect of everyday life is affected by climate change.

And the Philippines has the [dubious?] distinction of being one of the most vulnerable when it comes to the effects of climate change.

And so that has factored in a great deal to all of our planning and all that we do to improve the economy.

And I must say that from where we began, there has been — I’m talking now not only about the Philippines, but even ASEAN.

From where we stand, we can see that the developed countries and for lack of a better term, the developed countries have been [willing?] to take on the load to mitigate the effects of the climate change.

It is the calculation, [formally?] that we have to decide upon. We are not yet there. But I can see that there’s progress in that regard.

But I think it’s… It is so important that [inaudible] really enters into every aspect.

If we’re going to talk about the economy, I think I need not explain to ladies and gentlemen how that has become a major factor in all our thinking.

And from ordinary citizens’ point of view, it’s the same thing, that they have to be able to adjust. We have resigned ourselves to going past the 1.5 degrees in terms of global warming.

We have not been able to hold it back, many, many, many reasons.

So, we now try to look at mitigation and adaptation. And for that we certainly need the synergies that will come about by alliances, partnerships, arrangements with our ASEAN partners and beyond that, of course, our American partners who have been playing a very large part in that aspect of our development.

So, I recognize the critical role that the United States and American businesses have played in advancing a robust and inclusive economic growth in the Philippines, not only in this period but for very long time now.

I invite the members of the esteemed Council to continue being valuable partners of the Philippines. Let us push for greater economic engagement between our two countries, for our mutual benefit, for the prosperity, especially of the region.

Thank you and I wish you all a productive and enjoyable stay in the Philippines. Maraming salamat. [applause]

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