By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III and Trade and Industry Sec. Ramon Lopez took potshots at each other over the success of the Philippines’ investment promotions campaigns, or lack thereof during last week’s 46th Philippine Business Conference.

Lopez is concurrent chairman of the Board of Investments (BOI), which Dominguez said was not doing enough to entice foreign investors, particularly those leaving China to seek better options in other Southeast Asian nations.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year exposed weak links in China’s supply chain, causing numerous companies to relocate to other countries in the region. However, the Philippines is perceived to offer less in terms of incentives than Vietnam and India.

Dominguez said the BOI was not doing enough because “it does not see itself as a marketing organization.”

Of the companies exiting China, Dominguez said, “the most important thing is to talk directly to these companies that (maybe) moving out and offer them (incentives in the country.)”

The Finance chief said the BOI’s mandate was similar to that of a hotel owner. “If you’re in the hotel business, you don’t just advertise and say ‘OK, come here, we’ll wait for you guys.’ You have to make offers. You identify (them) and offer them a deal.”

Besides formulating investment rules, Dominguez said the BOI should go out and negotiate with high tech companies that create jobs for Filipinos and transfer technology to the Philippines.

“Why doesn’t the BOI go out and say OK, this is the industry we want to bring in?” Dominguez said, instead “they sit down, write the rules, and expect everybody to come.”

“That is not the role of the BOI,” Dominguez said.

Lopez, who addressed the convention the day after Dominguez, refuted the latter’s allegations.

Lopez said the Philippines was actually “catching some of the investors amid the pandemic” thereby creating new jobs for the people.

Lopez said nine investments with a total combined project cost of PHP3.2 billion (US$64 million) has been realized. The projects are from China, Taiwan, the US, and the Netherlands and involve the manufacture of tennis balls, traveling bags, internet accessories and audio equipment, the Trade secretary said.

According to Lopez, there are 14 ongoing leads including optical device manufacturing, expansion of electronics manufacturing, home appliances, and printing devices.

Other interests being pursued are in the areas of motorcycle and automobile assembly; integrated copper, textile personal protective equipment and engine assembly; agriculture; and beverage and bottle caps.

From Japan, Taiwan, the US and South Korea, potential investors are from the IT business process management, energy, high tech household appliances, motor vehicle manufacturing, and optical devices.

Dominguez cited a camera lens manufacturer for cell phones which is a fast growing industry. “How many cameras are usually in a cell phone? At least two, possible three, and sometimes four. (Yet) we don’t have a single lens manufacturer in the Philippines.”

Lopez took issue with Dominguez’s claim. He said the image stabilizer at the back of smartphones is usually manufactured by a Japanese company with operations in Batangas, Bataan and Cebu. That company provides employment for more than 30,000 Filipino workers, Lopez said.

The two-day conference is considered the Philippines’ largest annual business gathering. Attendees noted that it was not the first time that the Finance and the Trade and Industry chiefs had locked horns on policy issues.