US PRESIDENT Joseph R. Biden, Jr. vowed to send a “first of its kind” Presidential Trade and Investment Mission to the Philippines.
Mr. Biden made the announcement during his meeting with President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. at the Oval Office on Monday.
“President Biden and President Marcos resolve to draw on the strength of their partnership to promote enduring economic growth and prosperity in the United States, the Philippines, and the broader Indo-Pacific region,” they said in a joint statement posted on the White House website.
Mr. Biden will send the trade and investment mission “to enhance US companies’ investment in the Philippines’ innovation economy, its clean energy transition and critical minerals sector, and the food security of its people.”
The trade and investment mission will include the “highest caliber of US business leaders.”
The Philippines and the US will co-host the 6th annual Indo-Pacific Business Forum (IPBF) in Manila in 2024 to “further establish the Philippines as a key hub for regional supply chains and high-quality investment.”
The IPBF is the United States’ marquee annual commercial event in the region, convening the highest level of public and private sector leaders to review policy developments, announce new investments, and identify new commercial partnerships.
The US Department of Commerce is also planning to dispatch its first-ever trade mission on agricultural technology to the Philippines in September 2023, with stops in Manila and Davao City.
The US is also planning to establish a brick-and-mortar Open RAN Interoperability Lab in Manila. This would advance and secure the 5G rollout in the Philippines, strengthen the Southeast Asian nation’s innovation economy, and provide digital upskilling opportunities to Filipino workers, the White House said.
Also, the White House said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will launch new infrastructure activities intended to leverage over USD 3 billion in public and private financing to boost the Philippines’ critical mineral supply chains, advance smart grid technologies and clean energy solutions, promote secure 5G deployment, strengthen airport security and maritime safety, and support healthcare infrastructure.
It will also launch “a new partnership” to scale up infrastructure development in the Philippines and support the construction of “high-quality” railways, ports, and transport systems.
“The USAID commitment is a significant step-up in funding Philippine infrastructure, as it will now be at least twenty times bigger than its previous 2021 commitment of USD 160 million. But the proof of any commitment is in its actual implementation,” Terry L. Ridon, convenor of Manila-based InfraWatch, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
Also, Manila and Washington intended to expand air connectivity and modernize their bilateral aviation relationship by having a technical aviation dialogue at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Forum’ Transportation Ministerial Meeting in Detroit.
The two countries also plan to boost cooperation on space situational awareness and the use of space for maritime domain awareness through the first-ever US-Philippines Civil Space Dialogue.
“The countries will collaborate on the use of space-based technology in the areas of disaster management and emergency response, healthcare, mapping of resources and accessibility, pollution monitoring, deforestation, land use and infrastructure planning, and maritime awareness,” the White House said.
The Philippines and US also agreed to set a ministerial team on agricultural cooperation. It also seeks to expand market access of Philippine agricultural products to the US, Manila’s Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said.
Washington also vowed to support the Philippines’ development programs aimed at building “resilient” and “healthy” communities.
The USAID will mobilize USD 100 million over the next five years to increase access to safe drinking water for 1.22 million Filipinos and provide sanitation services to 710,000 people, the White House said.
It will also provide an additional USD 5.3 million for Philippine disaster risk reduction and resilience programs.
“USAID will award an additional USD 8 million, pending Congressional notification, to support global health security in the Philippines and invest in the Philippines’ biosafety and laboratory capacity, disease surveillance, risk communication, and emergency preparedness,” it added.
Manila and Washington also plan to establish a bilateral Labor Working Group, which is in line with the US-Philippines Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
It will serve as an important platform through which the two countries can collaborate to accelerate implementation of internationally recognized labor rights.
Leonardo A. Lanzona, who teaches economics at the Ateneo de Manila University, said these new investments should take into consideration productive employment and skills development.
“Investments can cause greater unemployment if these require skills that are not available in the country. In the process, only capital may receive higher returns, thereby unequally benefiting only US interest,” he said via Messenger chat.
Meanwhile, Oregon-based nuclear energy company NuScale Power Corp. expressed interest in investing in the Philippines.
In a meeting with Mr. Marcos, the company’s representatives said NuScale will conduct a study on a suitable location for its plant in the Philippines.
NuScale is known for designing small modular reactors (SMRs) that could power 60,000 per unit. It has existing nuclear projects in Utah, Romania, Indonesia, and Poland.
NuScale is expected to invest USD 6.5 billion to USD 7.5 billion to provide 430 megawatts to the Philippines by 2031, House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in a separate statement.
The Philippines “essentially has a shortfall in power supply” and the entry of NuScale would help address this issue, Mr. Marcos told the company, based on a PCO release.
However, Khevin A. Yu, energy transition campaigner at Greenpeace Philippines, said nuclear energy companies are making the Philippines a “guinea pig” for “untested risky technologies.”
“SMRs are still untested and unproven, and there is currently no way to safely store nuclear waste,” Mr. Yu said in a statement. — By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza with inputs from Beatriz Marie D. Cruz