Philippines wants close cooperation with UAE to achieve food security: Philippine Minister

Philippines wants close cooperation with UAE to achieve food security: Philippine Minister

By Binsal Abdulkader

ABU DHABI, 31st May, 2021 (WAM) -- The Philippines wants to closely cooperate with the United Arab Emirates to achieve food security, according to a top Philippine official.

In an exclusive interview with Emirates News Agency (WAM), Ramon M. Lopez, Minister of Philippines Department of Trade and Industry and Philippine Commissioner General of Expo 2020 Dubai, said, "The Philippines and the UAE share similar national goals and we would like to really work closely with the UAE towards achieving food security.

"The UAE investors are encouraged to look into agribusiness and agriculture in the Philippines, because that is a big sector in our country," Lopez added in a recent Zoom interview from Manila.

Food and agriculture in the Philippines and potential cooperation in these sectors between both countries [along with other topics] will be discussed at business roundtables at the Philippine pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020, which will be held from 1st October 2021 to 31st March 2022, he said.

Filipino businesses grow in UAE

The presence of a large number of Filipinos in the UAE – around 700,000 of them constitute the third largest expatriate community – contribute to growing exports of Philippine products to the UAE, especially fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), including food products, the minister said.

Many Filipino quick service restaurants and other Filipino brands also thrive in the UAE for the same reason, Lopez pointed out.

There is a large number of Filipino-owned businesses in the UAE, most of them based in Dubai, and the number has always been increasing, he revealed.

There are currently 792 Filipino enterprises in Dubai emirate, according to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the minister said.

"Business, cultural and people-to-people relations are positive factors that bring the Philippines and the UAE much closer than before. Hopefully we can sustain this positive growth in relations."

The Filipinos in the UAE have also been participating in training programmes offered by the Philippine government to encourage them to be entrepreneurs, he said.

"Over 10,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) across the globe, including their families in the Philippines, went through our training," Lopez revealed.

Around 2.2 million OFWs around the world sent PhP 211.9 billion (US$4.44 billion) remittances to the Philippines in 2019. The government wants to help the families of OFWs to utilise that remittances to create successful businesses that would give them sustainable income, he said.

"In other words, we want to teach them how to fish rather than giving them fish or they relying on the given fish alone."

MSMEs create 70% jobs

Thousands of families of OFWs have already established businesses in the Philippines, mostly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), with government support, the minister said, although the exact number was not readily available with him.

MSMEs account for 70 percent of employment in the Philippines. "They are also the type of enterprises that are scattered nationwide, both urban and rural. So it's important that we save MSMEs to save jobs and income generation."

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, most of the business have been going online. During the first part of 2020, there was only about 1700 registered online businesses, but towards the end of the year, they grew into 88,000 – over 40 times increase, he explained.

The Department of Trade and Industry has been conducting webinars on how to convert a business model from brick and mortar to online, Lopez said.

Expo 2020 Dubai

Bangkóta, the pavilion of the Philippines at the Expo 2020 Dubai, will showcase the country’s beauty and its priorities, the minister said.

The country has itself set priority in trade and investment sectors that will be promoted at the Expo. There will be business roundtable agenda that includes energy, food, manufacturing, tourism, infrastructure, property development and equity investment, he explained.

And there will also be a government roundtable agenda that will include agriculture and tourism, economic and cultural relations, people-to-people exchange and high-level visits, the official said.

"We will present our business investment strategy, essentially covering the global positioning, investment promotion to the UAE – Philippines as a competitive and innovative nation," the minister said.