A lot of potential to be tapped in Philippines; Singapore hopes to play key role, says its minister


Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a bilateral meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo at a hotel in Manila on April 16. - PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (The Straits Times/ANN): Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the Philippines is on the cusp of accelerated economic growth, providing a “very fertile ground” for Singapore to play a special role in helping its neighbour make its local industries more competitive.

“We are ready to harvest the economic opportunities that the Philippines is on the threshold of exploiting at a grand scale,” said Dr Balakrishnan at a hybrid press conference he hosted for Singapore media at the Shangri-La The Fort hotel in Taguig City, near the capital Manila, on April 18.

“There is a lot of potential still waiting to be tapped in the Philippines. So there is a very fertile ground,” he added.

His visit, from April 15 to 18, kicked off celebrations for the 55th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Singapore and the Philippines.

He said that Singapore can play a role, “perhaps in master planning, in training, in helping network and connect Filipino companies with opportunities globally”.

“I think that is a very good niche and a role in which we can help in the transformation of the Philippine economy,” he added.

Dr Balakrishnan singled out SIA Engineering, one of the 16 Singaporean firms currently operating in the Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which he visited a day earlier.

Planned development projects in this SEZ – formerly a US military base – include affordable housing inspired by Singapore’s Housing Board flats and a global civil aviation complex a la Changi Airport.

He noted that SIA Engineering not only operates a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for planes at Clark International Airport, but it also runs an academy training Filipino engineers in aircraft maintenance.

“The fact that graduates from these training programmes are in demand all over the world also illustrates the special role Singapore can play in helping to elevate service standards, to break new ground in new industries and, equally important, to elevate the pool of skilled talent available to the Philippines,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Repeating what he announced during his first press briefing in Manila on April 16, the minister reiterated that Singapore is interested in working with the Philippines on renewable energy and establishing a carbon credit market, which will provide new growth opportunities for both countries.

He also said that Singapore is keen to explore new frontiers in the digital sphere, particularly in artificial intelligence.

“And in the case of the Philippines, because of its large geographical size, its young, large population, and people who are hungry and willing to learn, there is much more that can be pursued,” Dr Balakrishnan added.

The minister said bilateral relations between Singapore and Manila are “excellent”, and that he is optimistic about the Philippines’ economic prospects under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The International Monetary Fund’s April 2024 World Economic Outlook projects the Philippines to be the region’s fastest-growing economy, with a growth forecast of 6.2 per cent in 2024. This is followed by Malaysia’s 4.4 per cent, Thailand’s 2.7 per cent and Singapore’s 2.1 per cent. - The Straits Times/ANN

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