Dubai Port invests in PH, more ME capital seen

Published May 27, 2021, 4:14 PM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

DubaiPort (DP World) is the latest investor from the Middle East to have joined the growing number of firms from the region that have been attracted to the Philippines.

Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Charito B. Plaza announced the Dubai Port investment at the recent online briefing and testimonial for the Philippine Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), H.E. Adnan Villaluna Alonto, together with his embassy officials in Riyadh: Atty. Rommel Romato, First Secretary & Consul General; Atty. Von Ryan Fererra, Third Secretary & Vice-Consul; and Abigail Pajarillo, Political and Economic Assistant.

PEZA Director General Charito B. Plaza

The Department of Foreign Affairs officials were joined by PEZA’s KA-PIPPs, the investment promotion partners from the private sector based in KSA and the Middle East, UK, USA and the Philippines, as they prepare for the PEZA Global Biz with KSA as the country in focus for this June 29 forum. During the virtual even, Plaza invited both Ambassador Alonto and the KSA Ambassador to the Philippines to join forces in bringing together the leading Arab companies to explore investment opportunities in the country.

For the Dubai Port, Plaza said that the company recently invested in a big ticket barge terminal in partnership with an economic zone developer in Tanza, Cavite.

Plaza did not provide further details but said that aside from Dubai Port, there are also serious leads from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for investments in halal, agri-business, IT services and fintech, tourism, pharmaceutical, petrochemicals and LNG.

While KSA happens to host the biggest deployment of OFWs since the 1970s, Plaza said “It is unfortunate that KSA is not even listed among the top 15 biggest trade partners of the Philippines. KSA is not also a traditional source of FDI for the country.”

According to Plaza, there are only 2 locators with Saudi Arabian equity (all in the IT sector) registered with the agency. For the entire ME, have only 21 locators with a total investment capital of P1.75 billion. However, 7 of these big Arab investors came in during the Duterte Administration.

Plaza noted that the renewed interest in the Philippines by Saudi investors is a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy, which has reinvigorated the Philippines ties with non-traditional trading partners and country-sources of FDI.

Through the Philippine Ambassador’s efforts, together with the Department of Trade and Industry-Foreign Trade Service Corps, the government has made significant strides to expand trade with KSA particularly the exports (to KSA) of wearing apparel, canned pineapple, canned tuna, wooden furniture and automotive parts vs. imports (from KSA) of mineral fuels, plastics, aircraft parts, iron and steel—which products are mainly used or produced by our ecozone locators.

In addition, the PEZA investment missions to KSA, UAE and Qatar in 2017 and 2019 headed by Plaza have likewise paved the way for increased interest by the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries and their growing appetite for offshore investment.

Among GCC countries, KSA is the 18th largest economy in the world and has embarked recently on economic diversification strategy “We hope to attract more FDI from KSA and the ME in general given the growing domestic market and oil consumption of the Philippines and the continued robustness of the ASEAN trading bloc.”

According to UNCTAD, for the past 10 years there has been a considerable rise in FDI from the ME in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. “We can capitalize on the increasing flow of Arab investment into the ASEAN and channel a big chunk of its FDI to the Philippines since we are the 3rd largest in terms of Moslem population among the member-economies after Malaysia and Indonesia, and the 3rd largest English-speaking population in the world,” said Plaza.

Among the various ecozones in the country, PEZA is offering the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the BIMP-East Asean Growth Area as viable locations for Arab investors.