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27 October 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. — From Pittsburgh, the city of steel, to Seattle, the city of innovation, a private sector business delegation from Manila showcased the Philippines as Asia’s new emerging tiger.

On 19-23 October 2015, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. and prominent Filipino economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas led the Fourth Private Sector Delegation to the United States in business forums held in Pittsburgh (19 October), Dallas/Fort Worth (21 October), and Seattle (23 October).

The other members of the topnotch business delegation were Mr. Engelbert Camasura, Partner at Ward Howell International Consulting Firm; Mr. Ronaldo Elepaño, 1st Vice President for Business Development International at DM Consunji, Inc.; Mr. Jose Mari Mercado, President and CEO of the Information Technology & Business Process Association of the Philippines; and Mr. Juan Olondriz Peña, President of RAJI INC.

Writing about the First delegation in 2012, Dr Villegas explained that the “apparent reticence of US investors to invest more heavily in the Philippines motivated me and a handful of top executives from the private sector to offer our services to Ambassador Jose Cuisia to organize a non-deal investment roadshow to three key cities in the US, i.e. Washington, D.C., New York City and San Francisco City.  The results exceeded our expectations.” That first roadshow has since been followed by visits to Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston in 2013; and then Houston, Atlanta and Philadelphia last year.

“The Philippines and the US are natural business partners because of our shared values,” said Ambassador Cuisia in opening this year’s roadshow in Pittsburgh. And in a subsequent statement, the envoy also noted that “since our flagship private sector-led investment roadshow in the U.S. in 2012, I have experienced first-hand that the wave of optimism and business confidence in the Philippines continues today. Through these annual events, we are connecting not only prominent Filipino businessmen, but also great Filipino minds, with American partners in promoting the Philippines’ improving business image in the United States.”

Dr. Villegas, who is also a Visiting Professor at IESE Business School, led off the presentations with an overview of the Philippine economy, and focused on the positive trends in growth and development. He also spoke on the weaknesses and challenges of the economy, while identifying the key industries for investments.

In his presentation, Dr Villegas identified “a stable democracy, improved governance, strong macroeconomic fundamentals, an educated, young and English-speaking labor force, and OFW remittances as positive trends contributing to the Philippines becoming one of the emerging markets.” He also added that “the Philippines is in a demographic sweet spot with the young and growing population being the main source of our competitive advantage.”

Throughout the roadshow, the delegates extolled the Filipino worker as a “global resource,” in the words of one, describing the talent pool as highly trainable, proficient in English, having an affinity with Western culture, having good customer service orientation, and having a high level of commitment and loyalty.

There was much interest in the Philippine IT-BMP industry that has steadily grown to become an US$18.9 billion dollar industry, showing the continued and growing interest of international companies to invest and put up operations in the country. It is projected that 1.3 million people will be directly employed in IT-BPM by 2016, with the industry generating US$25 billion in revenue.

Even after nearly four years since the first roadshow, infrastructure and public-private partnerships continued to be important topics for American business. The delegation informed participants at the various forums that the Philippine government is allocating increased resources to infrastructure improvement and expansion, opening up numerous opportunities for investment in the Philippines. In emphasizing the importance of infrastructure, Dr. Villegas expressed the hope that the next President in 2016 will be an “infrastructure President.”

In the discussions following the presentations, whether with US businessmen or Filipino-Americans, a recurring theme was the leadership transition in 2016. Recalling his visit to Harvard in 2014, as part of the third roadshow, Dr. Villegas, said that “the questions were more penetrating about how sustainable will be the present high growth of 6 to 8% in GDP once a new leader takes over in 2016.  What if the next President is not as committed to fighting corruption as President Benigno Aquino III?”

Dr Villegas argues that “President Aquino himself acknowledges that the strong recovery of the Philippines under his watch can be attributed to a series of reforms that spanned at least the last 27 years since the Administration of his mother. Gradually through more than a quarter of a century, the Philippines has been undergoing reforms towards more inclusive political and economic institutions.”

In a statement, Ambassador Cuisia also says, “I am confident that the Filipinos will choose wisely. And I am confident that no matter who succeeds President Aquino in June of 2016, the pace and the substance of reforms, of good governance, can no longer be reversed.”

This year’s roadshow is the fourth and last in a series of a non-deal investment roadshows that Dr. Villegas and leading business executives in Philippine growth industries have organized during the Aquino Administration in partnership with the Philippine Foreign Service Posts in the United States, led by the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC.

“Perhaps, it was only right that we started in Pittsburgh, the city of steel, and ended in Seattle, the city of innovation. Such a journey seems to parallel that of the Philippines, a developing country that built much of its economic development in the past on the shoulders of manufacturing, but has over the last few years ridden the succeeding waves of innovation and information technology,” Ambassador Cuisia commented on the itinerary of the recently concluded roadshow,

“The year 2015 is a fitting end to these investment roadshows under the Aquino Administration because hundreds of world leaders will congregate in key cities of the country for the APEC Summit and at the same time, the end of the year will see the launching of the final phase of the ASEAN Economic Community,” observed Dr. Villegas.

ASEAN has a combined nominal GDP of US$2.4 trillion, and would collectively rank as the world’s seventh largest economy. GDP growth for 2015 is forecast by the Asian Development Bank at 5.1 percent. And with a combined population of some 625 million people, its transformation into a single market will unlock a massive amount of economic opportunities.

As early as the first roadshow in 2012, Dr. Villegas’s message has been that the Philippines is part of the large free market of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and is a most strategic gateway to a total population of close to 700 million consumers.

“Since our geographic location also puts us at the center of the most dynamic region for the next 50-100 years, we can be the gateway of the Pacific to South East Asia, and to greater Asia,” said Ambassador Cuisia, marking the end of a four-year run of the private sector led investment roadshows, and perhaps also heralding new beginnings. ###