President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday attended the formal opening of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2023 at the Davos Congress Center in Switzerland.
Mr. Marcos is scheduled to address the WEF today (Wednesday, Jan. 18, Manila time).
Ahead of the formal opening, Mr. Marcos made an investment pitch for the Philippines that gained “a very positive response” from some of the world’s top business leaders, Speaker Martin Romualdez said.“This is an auspicious start and bodes well for the success of the President’s mission here at the WEF and that is to position the Philippines as an investment hub and gateway to the Asia-Pacific region,” Romualdez said.
“Everyone was excited about the Philippine recovery story and agreed that it is the future investor haven for Western capital,” he added.
Grab chairman and CEO Anthony Tan hosted a dinner for Mr. Marcos that was also attended by Luhut Pandjaitan, Coordinating minister of maritime and investment affairs, Republic of Indonesia; Andy Jassy, CEO, Amazon; Jared Kushner, founder, Affinity Partners; Patrick Foulis, editor-in-chief, The Economist; Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever; Bill Ford, CEO, General Atlantic; Bahlil Lahadalia, minister of investment, Republic of Indonesia; Bambang Susantono, chairman of ID New Capital City Authority; Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, minister of Thailand; Arsjad Rasjid, chairman, KADIN; Tony Blair, executive chairman, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change; Dolf van den Brink, CEO, Heineken; and Rachel Lord, head of Asia, BlackRock, one of the largest investment firms in the world.
Trade Secretary Fred Pascual also pitched the Philippines as the perfect investment destination to foreign companies.
“We have met with several business executives and presented our country as an ideal investment destination in Asia,” said Pascual, who said the WEF was an opportunity to obtain more foreign direct investments to complement the country’s economic recovery initiatives.
Pascual said they also told the business executives about the improved business climate, fueled by economic policy reforms that make it easier to do business in the Philippines.
On the first day of the forum, Pascual held a series of bilateral meetings with senior executives of companies with business interests in the Philippines, such as Coursera, Chevron, Astranis, and She Loves Tech.
He also met with Sean Doherty, WEF’s executive committee member and head of international trade and investment to discuss potential partnerships with the Philippines.
With other of the country’s economic managers, Pascual will be joining the CEO Dialogue on the Philippines with President Marcos as the keynote speaker.
The dialogue will highlight the administration’s initiatives on energy, food security, and digitalization to add resilience and growth momentum to the country’s economy through public-private collaboration.
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Monday expressed optimism that the President’s participation in the WEF will open doors for “more intensive” partnerships that will help revitalize the economy.
Diokno said the Marcos administration has created a “more competitive and enabling environment” in the Philippines.
“May the next few days bring forth more intensive collaboration and cooperation towards genuine economic transformation,” Diokno said during the luncheon hosted for Marcos and Philippine chief executive officers in Davos, Switzerland.
The government is expecting a strong, full-year gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2022, most likely much faster than its growth target of 6.5 to 7.5 percent.
Citing the expected slowdown of the global economy, Diokno added that the Philippine economy is forecast to grow by around 6.5 percent in 2023.
“And that’s still one of the highest if not the highest growth projection in the Asia-Pacific Region,” Diokno said.
The Philippines’ “bustling manufacturing sector, record-low unemployment, and stable and resilient banking system” can act as buffers against external headwinds, Diokno said, adding that these indicate that the country has a “resilient economy.”
Diokno said opening economic sectors to foreign equity, improving the ease of doing business and allowing the development of modern transformative industries will further boost the Philippine economy.
He also noted that the public-private partnership (PPP) will expand the “Build, Better, More” infrastructure agenda of the Marcos administration and yield more investments on top of the government’s goal to spend at least 5 to 6 percent of GDP on infrastructure.
Such initiatives, Diokno said, serve as “the backbone for the rapid and sustained growth for the Philippines.”
Diokno, however, acknowledged that the country is facing several challenges—hence, the need for the government to introduce its proposed sovereign wealth fund at the WEF.
He said the proposed sovereign wealth fund, the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), will support the goals set by the Marcos administration in the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028.
“The fund, which will be established in keeping with the highest standards of accountability and sound fiscal management, aims to diversify the country’s financial portfolio,” Diokno said.
Marcos is currently in Davos, along with the official Philippine delegation, to highlight the Philippines’ economic gains and bring home more investment pledges.
Seven of the Philippines’ biggest business leaders joined the Philippine delegation in Davos to show support for Marcos’ inaugural participation in WEF.
Business tycoons who flew to Switzerland were Sabin Aboitiz (Aboitiz), Kevin Andrew Tan (Alliance Global), Jaime Zobel de Ayala (Ayala Group), Lance Gokongwei (JG Summit Holdings), Ramon Ang (San Miguel Corp.), Teresita Sy-Coson (SM Investments), and Enrique Razon (International Container Terminal), Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said.
Mr. Marcos, in an interview with the media en route to Switzerland, said he was looking forward to “expanding and expounding” the significant strides achieved by his administration in the question-and-answer event at the WEF.
Mr. Marcos said he also hoped to have “pull-aside” or “pull-away” meetings on the sidelines of the WEF annual meeting.
The WEF is hosting a Country Strategy Dialogue for the Philippines to give the country an opportunity to promote it as a “leader and driver of growth” and a “gateway to the Asia-Pacific region—one that is open for business,” Marcos said in his pre-departure speech on Sunday.
This year’s annual WEF is the first in-person meeting since 2020.
Established in 1971, the WEF serves as an international organization for public-private cooperation and convenes leaders from government, business and civil society to address the state of the world and discuss priorities for the year ahead.
Romualdez said the President’s participation in Davos was timely, given the favorable economic forecasts for both the Philippines and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Jo-Ok Lee, head of the regional agenda for the Asia Pacific region at the WEF, said ASEAN is one of the few bright spots as the global economy continues to stall.
Lee noted that ASEAN economies enjoyed strong growth in 2022 amid a post-COVID-19 surge in activity.
According to Lee, the Philippines and Malaysia are the two top countries in this respect, “registering growth of 25 percent and 23 percent respectively per year,” aside from the fact that the The Philippines is also continuing to serve as a steady source of online labor to the rest of the world.
“Taken together, these factors make a compelling case to showcase the Philippines as an investment hub during President Marcos’ interaction with global industry and government leaders at the World Economic Forum,” Romualdez said.
President Marcos is the lone ASEAN leader, and one of the only two leaders from Asia, attending this year’s forum.
The second day of the WEF was scheduled to kick off Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. (around 4:30 p.m. in Manila with the speech of Switzerland’s President Alain Berset.
Among the key activities President Marcos is scheduled to join are the Philippines Country Strategy Dialog with the economic team, as well as separate bilateral meetings with Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and with officials of the mining and commodities trading giant Glencore.
Later Tuesday, President Marcos and First Lady Louise Araneta-Marcos were scheduled to join WEF founder and Chair Dr. Klaus Schwab and his wife Hilde in a private dinner.
It was Schwab who invited President Marcos to attend the WEF during a breakfast meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summits in Cambodia.