New Southbound Policy bearing fruit: Philippines envoy

Taipei, Aug. 5 (CNA) Taiwan's New Southbound Policy is bearing fruit in the Philippines as Taipei and Manila are engaging in closer cooperation in the fields of agriculture, trade and investment, education and healthcare, the Philippines' top envoy to Taiwan told CNA Wednesday.

Praising the Taiwan government's policy of enhancing exchanges with neighboring Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, Angelito Banayo said the policy is especially welcome, as it comes at a time when regional partners need closer collaboration.

"It comes at the time when there are so many things happening in the world economy, because of what the U.S. and China are doing, the beginning of what looks like a trade war," said Banayo, chairman and resident representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), which represents Philippine interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

Banayo said it has become important for nations in the Asia-Pacific region to bond together to cooperate and coordinate their efforts so that they will not be negatively affected by the looming trade war between the two major powers.

He said it is also time for Taiwan to look south, as for a very long time, it has focused on the U.S., the European Union and East Asia.

"With this, it brings a lot of opportunities for smaller countries like the Philippines to partner with Taiwan," he noted.

Since the launch of the policy by the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (???) in May 2016, the MECO head said Taipei and Manila are working more closely in various areas of mutual interest.

For instance, Taiwan and the Philippines signed a new bilateral investment agreement (BIA) in December last year, making it the first updated investment agreement that Taiwan has signed with a country targeted by its New Southbound Policy.

The framework is now being utilized for further investment engagement in the Philippines, he added.

This September, for instance, Banayo said the Philippines will be launching Taiwanese agricultural machinery exports to Davao City on Mindanao Island.

Many Taiwanese businessmen also regularly visit the Philippines to look for potential industrial sites for Taiwanese businesses, he said.

He said Manila is especially interested in learning from Taiwan's experience in fostering small and medium-sized enterprises due to its leadership in the field.

Banayo disclosed that in terms of promoting closer agricultural cooperation, the Philippines and Taiwan will soon launch a demonstration farm, where Taiwanese technology will be on a partnership or joint venture agreement with a Philippine cooperative to produce high-value crops within the next three months.

Both sides are still looking for possible sites for the demo farm, with the crops, fruits, and vegetables to be generated from the project to be exported to Taiwan or even sold domestically in the huge Philippines market, he said.

In the field of cultural and educational exchanges, Banayo said Philippines science high schools will soon offer Mandarin Chinese classes taught by Taiwanese teachers.

"I think that is very important, because eventually I want these high school students to study for their bachelor degrees in science or engineering technology here in Taiwan," he said.

Last Monday, Banayo said, MECO signed a memorandum of understanding with National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology. The university is going to offer scholarships for Filipino students in applied sciences, engineering and aquatic resources, he noted.

He said this is a good opportunity for more Filipinos to study in Taiwan's higher education institutions, due to the fact that the tuition fees and cost of living in Taiwan are reasonable compared to Singapore, Australia, the U.S. and the U.K.

The other is the healthcare system, together with the Ministry of Health and the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Banayo said, adding that Taiwan and the Philippines are going to launch a hospital in the Philippines. Visa Issues

Meanwhile, Banayo also disclosed that a MECO board of directors' meeting last week discussed the possible extension of the validity of visas given to Taiwanese passport-holders, or giving visa-free privileges for officials and diplomats from Taiwan, or even studying the possibility how much MECO can reduce visa fees for Taiwanese applicants.

MECO officials from Manila visited Taiwan last week for talks with local authorities in the National Immigration Agency and the foreign ministry, and will make a public announcement once a decision has been reached.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel