By Benedict M. Uy
Director of Commercial Affairs, Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei Foreign Trade Service Cops-DTI

Part One

THE Philippine Foreign Trade Service Corps recently had its planning conference for the year 2017. All of the country’s commercial attachés were asked to report to the the Philippine capital to get much-needed interaction with key home-based officials and be updated with the current situations and policies, especially pertaining to trade, industry and the economy as a whole. Of course, it was also a chance for us to feast on local cuisine, and soak in the warmth of the sun and of our friends and colleagues.

Visiting home also showed us how much our country has developed in the past years, but at the same time, reminded us here is still much work to be done. Although our country has been posting remarkable economic growth, we continue to look for areas of  improvement to sustain, if not accelerate, our growth pace.  We are cognizant we must make our economic growth more inclusive and help our enterprises become competitive amid globalization.

A major concern highlighted in our conference is our country’s rather shallow and narrow inventory of goods and services for export. Yes, we do have award-winning chocolates, Hollywood-worthy furniture and a steadfast business-process outsourcing industry, among others, but we need more. There are also gaps in the local manufacturing supply chain that dissuade the entry of some foreign manufacturing companies.

Fundamental industries, such as steel and petrochemical, are still wanting. Our agriculture production and food processing also have plenty of room for improvement—in terms of productivity, efficiency, packaging, etc. Our micro, small and medium enterprises, while thriving, still need support, especially in innovation, capacity  building and access to technology. All of these are not really new, but they remain relevant issues today.

I am one of many who say that our government, like my mother unit—the Department of Trade and Industry—is doing a lot of great things to address or at least alleviate such concerns. This article is not a bible of solutions to the concerns mentioned above, not even close. Solving those would surely need collective and tenacious efforts from major government departments and sustained support from the various stakeholders. Here, the writer would simply like to show some opportunities and solutions that can be found in Taiwan.

Taiwan is just a few miles from the islands of Batanes, making her our closest neighbor to the north. A flight from Manila to Taipei would only take one hour and 50 minutes, almost like flying from Manila to Davao. The older downtown part of Taipei City feels like an oversized Binondo. Aside from the official language of Mandarin Chinese, most Taiwanese speak a language similar to the Tsinoy’s Hokkien. More and more Taiwanese are also able to speak English. Simply put, there are many similarities between Taiwan and the Philippines, making it easy for cross-border interactions, such as trade, investments, tourism, education and the answer to many of the issues presented earlier—technology.

To be continued •