MANILA – European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen expects exports from the Philippines to the EU to exceed US$10 billion this year, even as the Philippines has already exported US$4.6 billion worth of products to the EU in the first half of 2017, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.
These numbers were revealed on Tuesday before European businessmen at the EU-Philippines Business Summit at the Solaire Resort and Casino in Parañaque City, where Lopez also took the chance to clarify President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent remarks against foreign critics, saying these stemmed from unsolicited comments that interfered with the Philippines’ domestic affairs.
Last Thursday, at the launch of a refurbished press briefing room at Malacañang, Duterte told foreign critics – and European diplomats – to “Leave my country in 24 hours,” reacting to groups saying the Philippines may be expelled from the United Nations Human Rights Council. “We are past the colonization stage. Don’t f*** with us,” Duterte added.
Right after the President’s tirade, Jessen’s office had clarified that the visiting European team that criticized the killing of thousands in the administration’s war on drugs did not reflect the EU’s official stance.
On Tuesday, Lopez emphasized the importance of “time-honored values of mutual respect for sovereignty.” He pointed out that corruption, criminality, and illegal drugs were destroying society down to its “core unit,” the family, which was why any “interference” was viewed by the government as preventing them from doing their job to combat these “ills”.
He added that any interference in the pursuit of the government’s programs against these issues will never sit well with those in government, “especially our passionate President.”
“We all can expect a strong reaction against any form of interference,” Lopez said. “Hopefully that so-called interference won’t happen.”
For his part, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines president Guenter Taus told reporters, “We know rhetoric is rhetoric. We have taken it (Duterte’s remarks) with a smile.”
He added that the EU had already issued a statement on the matter, where it said, “The Delegation continues to operate and function normally, and is committed to working constructively and productively with the Philippines for the benefit of the population.”
“That should be the end of it,” Taus said.
He stressed that the European business community plans to continue contributing to the Philippines’ economic growth and job creation, “maximizing the country’s great potential to become a regional leader in terms of foreign investment and trade.”
“We reiterate that we are more than willing to extend a hand of support to the Philippines as partner for progress and prosperity,” Taus said.
Jessen added, “Not only are we still here, but we are here in growing numbers.”
“The EU sees trade and investment as answers to poverty and as tools for inclusive growth,” he said. “Doing business with Europe is about creating decent jobs, investing in skills, and developing opportunities for small businesses.”
Lopez expressed his hope that the EU will be more active in highlighting its “constructive collaborations and joint development programs” which benefit many Filipinos, especially those in rural areas.
He noted that the Philippines has benefited from GSP+ status; under the EU Generalized Scheme of Preferences, the Philippines is able to export goods more easily to the EU due to zero duties.
“Significant” exports to the EU include crude coconut oil, canned tuna, preserved and processed pineapples, bicycles, electrical machinery equipment, and rubber.
Zubiri: ‘Glad to see you around’
For his part, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, the chairperson of the Senate Committee for Trade, Commerce, and Industry, began own his speech by saying he was glad the European businessmen were “still here”.
He said that Duterte simply speaks his mind whenever he is upset, then directed their attention instead to the administration’s “good” economic team in Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, who were doing a “tremendous job” in ensuring that investments in the Philippines continued and thrived.