POSTSCRIPT / November 18, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Enroute to DC, Arroyo makes sales pitch in NY

NEW YORK — If the high-powered sales team of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is to be believed, she could be bringing home after her week-long visit to the world’s capital exciting pledges of American investments and assistance. Emphasis is on “pledges.”

The Cabinet members traveling with the President emerged Thursday from the first round of meetings with American businessmen at the swank Waldorf Astoria with reports of renewed interest in a Philippines run by an economist president.

The sequence guide of GMA’s working visit (a notch below an all-out state visit) appears to be touching base first with overseas Filipinos on the West Coast, talking business next here in New York, and finally plumbing the diplomatic and political dimensions of Philippine-American relations in Washington, DC.

The President’s first team includes Secretaries Manuel Roxas II of Trade and Industry, Jose Isidro Camacho of Finance, Lauro L. Baja Jr. of Foreign Affairs, Vicente S. Perez Jr. of Energy, and Gov. Rafael B. Buenaventura of the Banko Sentral.

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DIFFERENT THIS TIME?: The first-day meetings involved an international group of advisers and businessmen representing firms involved in information-communication technology, power and energy, garments, and phone-based service centers.

What makes this road show any different from previous ones that generally did not bring in the desired volume of business?

The plans and programs presented to investors look exciting enough to those hearing them for the first time. Roxas said one big difference that American prospectors have noticed this time is the Arroyo administration’s being more focused.

Camacho said foreign investors can now sense that the Philippine government has a feasible strategy for implementing those plans.

Buenaventura cited fiscal discipline as another plus point. He and the others also noted that while exports have dropped by some 15 percent and the peso has fallen in relation to the US dollar, the economy has managed to maintain a 3-percent growth.

None of the Cabinet members dared to give the dollars-and-cents value of what they described as productive business meetings. But Roxas ventured to estimate that in the call center business alone, some 2,000 new jobs would be opened.

This business refers to the putting up of support centers in Manila to handle queries and complaints phoned in by customers of firms based elsewhere. The caller, who may be calling from overseas, may not even be aware that his case is being handled by personnel in Manila.

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DISTANCE CUSTOMER CARE: In a program at the Waldorf witnessed by President Arroyo, some US firms that are into distance customer-support signed memoranda of agreement for their Philippine operations: Immequire, Tele Response Center Inc., Customer Contact Center Inc. and Source One Communication.

As incentive, the firms were assured the usual tax holiday and duty-free importation of equipment, among other bonuses. If located in special economic zones they may also get exemptions from some labor laws.

We were looking for an item in the President’s schedule on Microsoft boss Bill Gates, because his executives in Manila had told us that the software king would follow up here his recent meeting in Shanghai with the President. Apparently Gates has changed his mind, as he is busy elsewhere promoting his new Windows XP operating system.

In the garments discussions, Roxas said that these firms expressed interest in coming in: Liz Claiborne, Nautica, Polo Ralph Lauren, Jones Apparel Group, Jordache Enterprises, Kids “R” Us, Leslie Fay and Limited Stores Inc. They represent half of the firms invited to the meeting.

Even now, a Filipino shopper here picks up a stateside signature garment only to sometimes find in the trade markings that it was made in the Philippines.

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GLOBAL GURUS: In a 50-minute meeting with her international advisers, the President got valuable insights into the Philippine economy from the perspective of foreign investors. The advisers who showed up included Maurice Greenberg, chairman, American International Group; Gerard Corrigan, managing director, Goldman Sachs; and Minoru Makihara, chairman, Mitsubishi Corp.

They said they expected the US economy, which is into recession, to post a 3-percent growth in the second half of next year. Historically, a perking up of the US economy has salutary cascading effects in the Philippines after a time lag.

Roxas and Camacho said that, assuming the US recovery indeed takes place, the Philippines should prepare in earnest and position itself to take advantage of the spillover to us across the Pacific.

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NAPOCOR ON THE BLOCK: An optimistic Roxas speculated that if the US economy grows by 3 percent as predicted, the Philippines could ride on the recovery and work out an 8-percent growth. Camacho stressed the need for generating savings to prepare and help pump prime the economy.

Such growth is predicated on many factors, including the power situation, which is rather wobbly at this point (witness the recent blackouts that saw Luzon groping in the dark).

Camacho said scores of investors showed up for the presentation on the power situation, including the planned privatization of the National Power Corp. Some guests showed interest in the power-generating section of the system.

We were intrigued, however, by the private comment of an official that many obstacles stand in the way of the full privatization of Napocor, including alleged attempts to milk it before letting it go.

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NEGROPONTE CALL: On the eve of her policy speech before the United Nations general assembly last Friday, President Arroyo met with the US permanent representative to the UN John Negroponte, who used to be American envoy to Manila.

The President reaffirmed her support for the American campaign and the UN sentiment for plucking out by force if necesssary the terrorists hiding in Afghanistan. In this context, she updated Negroponte on the government’s own effort to rescue hostages still being held by the Abu Sayyaf.

In her UN address, she repeated the anti-terrorist moves of her government. In addition, she batted for a global effort to eliminate poverty. The “most effective and least costly way,” she added, is for developed countries to open their markets to the products of developing countries.

Negroponte told her that he would seek out and coordinate with ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco, the Philippine permanent representative to the UN. He said he is “best friends” with Camacho, “close” with Perez and Philippine ambassador to Washington Albert del Rosario.

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COOL BUT NOT COLD: If we may briefly touch on the weather, although it’s late fall, it’s not really that cold. Today it has been around 65 degrees, sunny with nippy cool breezes that make strolling pleasant.

The Big Apple has felt less vibrant since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center soaring to the sky in lower Manhattan. The kamikaze-style attack that killed more than 5,000 sapped, perhaps permanently, the Yankee smug feeling that home is safe.

President Arroyo visited Ground Zero with New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani last Friday. The site has become a must stop for visiting heads of government, especially those being convinced to line up behind the US in its war in Afghanistan.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 18, 2001)

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