The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) received a 20-member delegation of the Kansai Economic Federation (Kankeiren) from Japan that intends to expand and establish new businesses in the Philippines.

“Our survey mission in the Philippines (has) a definite objective in the light of movements toward the ASEAN economic integration as well as negotiations both for EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) and FTA (Free Trade Agreement),” Kansai Economic Federation (Kankeiren) Vice Chairman Masayuki Matsushita said during a recent roundtable meeting between the DTI, led by Undersecretary Adrian S. Cristobal Jr., and the Kankeiren busines delegation.

Matsushita added that the mission aims to find out the economic conditions, industrial policies and investment environment, and use their findings to expand business exchanges between Kansai, Japan and the Philippines.

“You have come at the right time. The Philippines is now one of the fastest growing economies in the fastest growing region in the world,” DTI Undersecretary Adrian S. Cristobal Jr. said.

Cristobal noted that with the approaching regional economic integration of ASEAN member states, the economic outlook for the Philippines remains highly favorable, with continuing stable and positive investment grade credit rating by the major rating agencies such as Fitch Ratings, Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s as well as Japan’s Credit Rating Agency, Ltd. (JCR).

“Japan is a strategic partner in the Philippine growth story. After we signed the Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJPEPA) in 2006, Japan has become our number one trading partner and one of the top sources of investments to the Philippines,” Cristobal said.

During the meeting, Matsushita also mentioned four major agenda for discussion: position of the government on ASEAN economic integration, Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) as well as economic and industrial policies in light of the greater competition within ASEAN; Philippine investment environment, particularly industry roadmaps to strengthen the business environment and business opportunities available for Japanese companies; information on the kind of cooperation the Philippines needs in the face of natural disasters; and information on major government policies on environment concerns and energy conservation measures.

In response, Cristobal discussed the Philippines’ on-going negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement among ASEAN members and its six trading partners, namely Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

He added that the Philippines is currently working with the European Union (EU) for a bilateral free trade agreement. The country also held a series of high-level meetings with European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and technical consultations with Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries. The TPP is a plurilateral trade agreement currently negotiated by 12 countries, namely, the US, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Japan, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Canada and Mexico.

Cristobal said that the government is focusing efforts on revitalizing the industrial sector of the economy, particularly manufacturing, to generate more quality and decent jobs. To date, a total of 29 industry roadmaps in various stages of implementation have been submitted through the Industry Roadmap Project launched in 2012. The roadmaps, under the supervision of Technical Working Groups, aim to close gaps to enable industries to become more competitive.

“Japan has been instrumental in improving the Philippines’ business environment and addressing infrastructure developments through its Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). We greatly value and welcome inputs of the Japanese in rolling out the country’s major infrastructure projects to sustain the upward momentum of the Philippine economy,” Cristobal added.

Matsushita led the delegation composed of senior business executives from manufacturing, trade and services, and financial sectors. He is also the chairman of Kankeiren International Committee and the vice chairman of the board in Panasonic Corporation.

The delegation also included executives from Kyoei Steel Ltd., Itochu Corporation, Sojitz Corporation, Sumitomo Corporation, Daikin Industries, Ltd., Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Obayashi Corp., Mitsui & Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Corporation, Marubeni Corp., Hitachi Zosen Corp., Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd., and Takenaka Corporation.

Kankeiren is composed of 1300 businesses, organizations, educational corporations and other entities that pursue economic activities mainly in the Kansai region. Kansai is the second largest economic sphere after Tokyo Metropolitan area and has 22 percent share in Japan’s trade with the Philippines.

Bilateral trade between the two countries is over US$17 billion or 14.5 percent of the Philippines’ trade to the world. On the investment side, committed Japanese investments last year represent over 16 percent of the Philippines’ foreign direct investments (FDIs), the bulk of which is in manufacturing. In the first quarter 2014, 22.3 percent of total approved FDIs came from Japan, the country’s second top source of FDIs.