President: ‘Perfect time to invest in Philippines’

Philippines President Benigno Aquino addresses a session during the World Economic Forum on East Asia at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Naypyidaw on June 7, 2013

Nay Pwi Taw, Myanmar - "This is the perfect time to invest in the Philippines."

This was the resounding pitch made by President Benigno S. Aquino III to attract foreign businessmen to ride on the resurgence of the "brightest spark" in Southeast Asia and invest in the Philippines during his visit to Myanmar.

In a meeting with foreign businessmen at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia here, the President highlighted the country's robust economic growth and stable political climate as a result of vital reforms.

He said investors can consider the profitable sectors of infrastructure development, tourism and agriculture.

Aquino assured that his government has instituted key reforms and policies to level the playing field, minimize regulatory risks, and ensure a stable business environment.

"Today, all the factors are in place: political stability, low inflation and low borrowing rates, opportunities for growth in almost all sectors, a government committed to integrity and empowerment, and a people known the world over for their industry, loyalty, and creativity," the President told a gathering of 200 businessmen in the luncheon hosted by Ayala Corporation.

"In our country, you have the recipe for sustained, inclusive growth that benefits investors and public alike. All that is left is for us to engage each other, and work together," the President said.

"We are here to form partnerships with you. We are here because we are certain that, together, we can achieve great things for your businesses, for our economy, and for our people," he said.

After taking steps to weed out corruption in government and revive the economy when he assumed office in 2010, the President said good governance has finally created a climate of confidence in the Philippines.

"Our stock market has soared over the past years, while analysts the world over have given different names to our success. I have heard our country called a hotspot, Asia's Rising Tiger, or the brightest spark in Southeast Asia, just to name a few. These accolades are not unwarranted," he said.

For the first time in the nation's history, the Philippines has obtained investment grades from two major credit rating agencies, the President said.

"These agencies have cited our robust growth as well as the low and stable inflation rate in the country-all while many other economies are experiencing slowdowns," he said.

The President also took pride in the Philippines recording better-than-expected economic growth of 6.8 percent in 2012. The economy also expanded by 7.8 percent in the first quarter of 2013, he added.

Aquino attributed the economic growth to the robust growth of agriculture, manufacturing, construction, as well as public and private spending.

"This kind of economic growth is happening when we have just been upgraded to investment grade means that development can take place at an even faster rate-opening more sources of financing, and redounding to lower borrowing costs not only for our government, but also for businesses and investors," he said.

Aquino said prospective investors can look into infrastructure development in the Philippines, admitting that the country is lagging behind its Asian neighbors in this area.

"Instead of seeing this as a setback, we choose to see it as an opportunity to make quality investments into infrastructure," he said.

He said the government has raised its budget for infrastructure, from $4.86 billion in 2012 to $5.94 billion in 2013, to repair roads, develop airports, and transport hubs.

Agriculture and tourism are other two priority sectors that can create jobs and revitalize rural development, according to the President. "Lack of infrastructure and support to farmers, among others, hampered the growth of our agriculture sector in the past. To remedy this, we went back to basics, improving irrigation systems, and constructing and rehabilitating farm to market roads," he said.

Tourism industry in the Philippines is also on a roll. Aquino said 4.3 million people visited the Philippines in 2012, "discovering that, indeed, it's more fun in the Philippines."

With the good press received by the country's tourist destinations, Aquino expressed confidence that the government can surpass the 2016 target of 10 million tourist arrivals.

"So I want to take this opportunity to invite you to come and visit the Philippines, whether for a vacation, for business-perhaps to explore the hotel industry, or for the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2014, which will be held in our country," he said.

"Whatever it is that you may be looking for-business opportunities in the sectors as I have mentioned, or in manufacturing, shipbuilding, and information technology and business process management; a secluded and beautiful beach in Palawan, or the most lively street dancing in any of our festivals-I am certain that you will find it in our country, and find it more fun at that," he said.

He said investments in tourism, agriculture, and infrastructure have been matched with the government's investments in people such as healthcare, education and social services. "These ensure that, when investors set up shop in the Philippines, they will find a healthy and capable labor pool ready to man their workstations, and empowered consumers able to patronize their products and services. said.