31 January 2017 – United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim expressed the US’ continued commitment and interest to pursue the shared values and goals of the two countries amid the challenging issues confronting the region. In his remarks at the Makati Business Club’s First General Membership Meeting in 2017, he particularly highlighted the strategic aspect of this partnership. “The Philippines is one of our most special friends and partners. Our military partnership remains as compelling as it was seven years ago.” He adds, “There is wide recognition in Washington of the importance of this alliance, and that both sides must give great care and attention to its management.”

The new US Ambassador, who officially started his Manila tenure on December 1st last year, also reiterated his intention to continue working with partners in the Philippines to address mutual concerns and to look for ways to increase foreign investments, reduce trade barriers, and streamline business regulations. “American firms are some of the largest employers, investors, exporters and taxpayers in this country. Improving the business climate is important to you and to your companies as it is to ours,” he said. In particular, he shared his optimism for the continued success of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines. He also expressed his confidence over American firms’ continued engagement in this industry, regardless of relevant US policies that might surface, due to the positive attractive factors that the country offers.

Other issues were also raised by members of the Club with regard to the recent policies and proposed actions by new US President Donald Trump. One of these controversial issues that the ambassador was asked to clarify was on the executive order barring the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-dominated countries into the United States for 90 days, and barring the entry of refugees for 120 days. Ambassador Kim explained that the order was a response to national security issues but that the US remains to be open and welcoming to immigrants. He said, “This is not racism; this is not unfair prejudice. This is driven by our legitimate security needs and concerns.” Meanwhile, he did not expand on the exact parameters of the executive order as the specifics of it are still currently being refined by their government.

Ambassador Sung was also asked to comment about the direction of the US trade and investment policies and how the Trump administration’s “America First” campaign will come into play. One of the immediate actions that President Trump made in his first week in office was to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade deal that was supposed to mark the United States’ leadership in designing the new rules of global free trade. While Ambassador Kim was careful from commenting about the new trade policies that are still taking shape, he did assure that the United States remain committed to the principles of free trade and in pursuing it either through multilateral deals or bilateral agreements. He said, “The administration is very focused on making sure that we continue to promote free trade and continue to encourage everyone to play by free market principles and rules. I don’t think that’s going to change at all.”

The ambassador took the opportunity to clarify that the United States is not building any weapons depot in the country, and that their priority is to extend disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in the Philippines. ▪