24 March 2017 – The Ambassador of Japan to the Philippines Kazuhide Ishikawa highlighted the vibrant relationship between Japan and the Philippines in his address during the Makati Business Club’s Second General Membership Meeting for 2017. The Ambassador, who was designated to the country in August 2014 defines the Philippines-Japan relations as a “strategic partnership”, one that is based on shared basic values, common goals, and long-standing friendship.

Amb. Ishikawa noted the countries’ partnership in economic front. Japan has been the Philippines’ largest trade partner, with total trade reaching US$ 21.19 billion in 2016, compared to other major partners such as China (US$ 21.17) and the United States (US$ 15.86). Since the Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJEPA) was ratified in 2008, trade between two countries increased by about 20%. The top envoy also mentioned that Japan is a major source of investments since 2000, with the cumulative FDI totalling Php 635.88 billion. He said that most of the Japanese companies operating in the country are engaged in manufacturing activities in the country’s economic zones.

Another key pillar highlighted is Japan’s generous assistance to the Philippines over the years. Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) comprises 57%, or US$27.4 billion, of the entire ODA extended to the country from 1966 to 2015. Recent projects and initiatives supported by this assistance include transport roadmap for Metro Manila, North-South Commuter Railway, Ormoc Flood Mitigation Project, provision of maritime vessels and other equipment for Philippine Coast Guard, and comprehensive rehabilitation support for those affected by illegal drugs.

The ambassador also pointed out the active exchange of people between the two countries, in particular the entry of Filipinos to Japan. Under the PJEPA, about 1,600 nurse and candidates have gone to Japan of which almost 250 passed. As of December 2015, 17,000 Filipinos have undergone the Technical Intern Program, which allows trainees to acquire and master the skills of the Japanese industries and professions under a three-year employment. In addition, Japanese government recently extended opportunities to Filipinos in areas of housekeeping services, language instruction, and sports.

MBC members took advantage of the open forum and inquired Amb. Ishikawa on Japan’s position on regional and maritime security, business environment in the Philippines, and Japan’s trade approach post-Trans-Pacific Partnership. When asked whether Japan has intentions of conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, the ambassador responded, “We do not have any concrete plan to do those kinds of operations in the South China Sea. But occasionally we have operations to deal with pirates in the Sea of Somalia and the Japan Self-Defense Forces will dispatch ships to there, and on their way back to Japan, these fleets sometimes make friendly business [trips] to the Philippines. That kind of navigation may have played sort of a small role to ensure the freedom of navigation.”

The ambassador was also asked on how to make the Philippines more attractive for foreign investors. He enumerated several measures he considered would help the country draw more investments. These include introducing policies and mulling incentives to encourage manufacturing firms such as those contained in the CARS Program, pursuing peace process in Mindanao, addressing the high cost of electricity, making the agricultural sector competitive, and taking into account environmental issues.

Lastly, Ambassador Ishikawa answered a question on Japan’s trade approach after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and amidst the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) being negotiated. “I cannot project the future outcome. For the time being, Japan never gave up TPP. We are still hoping that the current TPP will come into effect. Without the participation of the United States, it will not come into effect. We are now discussing with other TPP partners how to get TPP done. [D]uring the course of discussions on the RCEP, we are asking our members of RCEP groups, we need to create a very high-quality, high-standards RCEP to be realized… Of course, it should be concluded as soon as possible, but the substance is more important than timing.”