MANILA - Despite a territorial spat between the Manila and Beijing, Filipino and Chinese businessmen began on Tuesday discussions to strengthen trade and investment ties.
A delegation of 50 Chinese business leaders belonging to state-led China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) is in Manila for the Philippines-China Business Forum and 1st Philippines-China Trade and Investment Council Meeting.
The high-level CCPIT mission is hosted by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), whose president Miguel B. Varela said it was high time for Filipino and Chinese businessmen to expand their cooperation.
"China is one of the largest economies. The Philippines is one of the rising tigers of emerging Asia. We should seize the opportunities as we enter the era of Asian leadership," Varela told participants of the Philippines-China Business Forum and 1st Philippines-China Trade and Investment Council Meeting on Tuesday.
For his part, CCPIT vice chairman Yu Ping said: "Sharing geographic proximity, convenient transportation and low cost of economic cooperation, both countries are highly complementary in the cooperation areas of agricultural technology, industrial development and tourism."
On the sidelines of the forum, Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo told reporters that the Chinese mission shows that it was "business as usual" for both countries despite a pestering territorial row.
Domingo said the CCPIT delegation is among the biggest groups that visited the country of late.
Trade and investment between the Philippines and China is expected to grow "significantly" following this business mission, he said.
"The Philippines is really very interested in fostering stronger economic relations with China," Domingo told Chinese and Filipino businessmen during the forum. "It is very opportune time for you to be here, as economic development in the country, similar to China, is doing quite well."
"While our growth is not as fast as China, it is second fastest in Asia, next to China. We have low inflation, similar to China," he said.
Domingo noted that if trade with the mainland and Hong Kong are combined, China becomes the Philippines' largest trading partner.
China's Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing said bilateral trade between the two countries last year rose 12.8 percent to $36.3 billion, with a surplus of almost $3 billion in favor of the Philippines.
But Filipinos invested more in China last year, with $130 million poured into the mainland, whereas Chinese businessmen invested $65.4 million in the Philippines.
"But since China has more money than the Philippines, we hope more Chinese investors will come to the Philippines," Domingo said.
The 56 members of the CCPIT delegation come from 10 provinces of China, with interests in agriculture, automotive, construction, engineering, mining, petroleum, plastics, power, real estate, semiconductor and electronics, shoe manufacturing, steel and tourism.