The Philippine Academic Consortium for Latin American Studies (PACLAS), in collaboration with the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and supported by the Office of American Affairs (OAA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), organized the Fourth International Conference on Latin American Studies held at the University of Santo Tomas and Ateneo de Manila University on March 16 and 17, 2017, respectively.
Revolving around the theme “Strengthening Economic and Cultural Exchanges between the Philippines and Latin America,” the conference explored dimensions of Philippine-Latin American relations within the larger context of the Asia-Pacific, including their historical, political, and socio-cultural aspects, with a view to strengthening economic exchanges between the Philippines and Latin America. The conference presented the experiences of other Asian countries in developing ties with Latin America, Latin American investors doing business in the Philippines as well as top Filipino investors doing business in Latin America.
PACLAS Executive Board Chair Dr. Belen C. Tangco, UST Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs Dr. Clarita Carillo, and Dean Michael Anthony C. Vasco welcomed the guest and participants on the first day of the conference.
In his keynote speech, FSI Director-General Claro S. Cristobal highlighted the crucial role of social and cultural capitals in building the relations between the Philippines and Latin America. The latest PACLAS conference is the realization of the Philippines’ commitment to strengthen bilateral economic and cultural exchanges. It serves as rejoinder for the creation of PACLAS, and gives credence to mutual understanding as a basis for stronger trade relations.
Session 1 on “The Importance of Latin America to the Asia-Pacific Region” explained the common impediments to deeper bilateral relations between Latin America and the countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Sharing Malaysia’s case, Dr. Corrado Letta, Economic Consultant to the President of the Universiti Kuala Lumpur, discussed the wide cultural gap between Malaysia and Latin America. Academic and research institutions were as critical in bridging this gap through knowledge-building and transmission.
Dr. Sonia Chan Prado, Executive Director of the Macau Association for the Promotion of Exchange between Asia and Latin America, talked about China’s recent strides in revitalizing economic connection with Latin America. The boom of Chinese direct investments to Latin America began in the first decade of the 21st century. Investments are concentrated in raw materials and commodities, and construction of infrastructure and energy projects. She said that Macau, a key seaport in the 16th century Maritime Silk Route, is instrumental in preserving Latin American heritage in Asia.
Director Dennis Briones of the Office of American Affairs, DFA shared our country’s experience in developing ties with Latin America. The Philippines and Latin America share a deep common cultural heritage – in architecture and designs, tradition, food, climate and language. Also, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Venezuela were the first Latin American countries to recognize the Philippines as a Republic. However, achieving deeper bilateral cooperation has been quite difficult, for reasons like distance, the current situation in Latin American countries; lack of mutual exposure in trade and investment; and limited Philippine representation in Central and South American countries.
The Philippines is finding ways to address these challenges by sending more business missions to the region, organizing marketing activities to promote the Philippines as the region’s best investment and tourism destination; maximizing the role of honorary consulates and Filipino communities in Latin America in enhancing multilateral engagement, and tapping partners for security-related and development cooperation programs.
Session 2 on the “Historical and Cultural Relations of the Philippines and Latin America” featured Dr. Tomas Calvillo Unna, Ambassador Robert Bosch Estevez of Argentina, Ambassador Rodrigo Do Amaral Souza of Brazil, and Ambassador Rolando Anibal Guevara of Panama as presenters.
Dr. Fernando Zialcita spoke on behalf of Dr. Unna. Dr. Unna pointed out the rich historical ties between Mexico and the Philippines through the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. Unfortunately, this heritage cannot be found in the Philippines’ collective awareness, and is barely ingrained in our academic traditions.
Ambassador Estevez acknowledged that while geographic distance is indeed a defining characteristic of Argentina-Philippines relations, it has not impeded the continued flow of trade between the two countries. Soybean is Argentina’s major export good to the Philippines, while the Philippines exports electronic components and transmission shafts to Argentina.
Ambassador Amaral Souza noted that Brazil and the Philippines share a legacy of multicultural peoples shaped by diversity and a desire for development, poverty eradication, and overcoming social inequality. Growth of bilateral trade between Brazil and the Philippines peaked in 2013. The promotion of trade and investment is a top priority in strengthening the bond between the two countries.
Ambassador Guevara, on the other hand, views the maritime industry as the strongest link between the Philippines and Panama. In June 2016, a Memorandum of Agreement on the Recognition of Certificate was signed between the Panama Maritime Authority (PMA) and the Philippine Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA). Filipino seafarers represent 60 percent of the total seafarers on board Panama-registered vessels. He added that Filipinos are world-class workers and preferred by the global shipping industry for their quality of work and their good command of the English language.
Session 3 on the “Philippine- Latin America Trade Relations” focused on exploring pathways for regional economic integration between Asia and Latin America, the current drivers of global growth.
Dr. Erlinda Medalla argued that trade agreements can be a stepping stone for broader cooperation, and that the Pacific Alliance can serve as a pathway to regional economic integration. The Philippines’s trade with Pacific Alliance economies (i.e., Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) is relatively small, but exports significantly increased from USD78 million in 1995 to USD539 million in 2015. Despite the challenges, there is much room for trade to grow between the Philippines and Pacific Alliance economies.
Trade agreements like the Pacific Alliance can pave the way for other areas of cooperation in the fields of SMEs, climate change, competitiveness, and trade facilitation. This agreement can also reinforce support for openness and regional cooperation to counter the trend of trade protectionism. It is a good response to what is happening in Europe and in the US. Thus, the Pacific Alliance can be a model showing that trade is not a zero-sum game for it can benefit all economies involved.
Mr. Camilo Sanhueza, Chargé d’ Affaires of the Embassy of Chile, discussed the potential cooperation between the Pacific Alliance and ASEAN under the leadership of Chile and the Philippines. Pacific Alliance and ASEAN have started to forge closer ties with three Foreign Ministers’ meetings have already been held. In May 2016, possible areas of cooperation in financial regulation, trade facilitation, SMEs, connectivity, logistics, science and technology, innovation, and people-to-people exchanges were discussed.
Mr. Sanhueza emphasized that government and business should work together. There is a need to increase value added and promote diversification through innovation and productivity. Likewise, governments need to implement policies that stimulate investments in innovation and science and technology.
Dr. Lilian Sison, Director of International Affairs and Programs of UST delivered the closing remarks on the first day of the conference.
Fr. Jose Mr. Cruz, SJ, Vice President for University and Global Affairs of Ateneo de Manila University delivered the welcoming remarks during the second day of the conference.
In his keynote speech, Mexican Ambassador Julio Camarena said that relations between the Philippines and Mexico date back 500 years ago. Both nations were governed by the Vice Kingdom of New Spain. Likewise, Tagalog language assimilated (30 percent) words from the Spanish language (which derived 10 percent from Aztec).
The connection between Mexico and the Philippines is continuously nurtured in the economic front. Mexico is an important investor in the Philippines, with investments reaching USD6.5 billion. In 2013 and 2014, Mexico was the number one investor in the Philippines with the arrival of FEMSA Coca Cola. There are also trade opportunities in the following industries: food and drinks, manufactured products, automotive parts, swine and pet nutrition. Renewable energy investments are slowly growing.
Session 4 on “Doing Business in Latin America” presented the experiences of three Filipino entrepreneurs in conducting business in Latin America – Mr. Leon Araneta of Atalyer, Mr. Gonzallo Torres Macchiavello of Energy Development Corporation (EDC), and Mr. Arthur T. Tan of Integrated Micro-Electronics, Inc. (IMI).
Mr. Araneta discussed the similarities and differences between Mexicans and Filipinos in terms of work ethics, complexity of personalities, and socializing behavior. He also identified some challenges in doing business with Mexico such as the 14-hour time difference, distance, and costs. However, he noted that social media applications and declining costs of air ticket helped reduced transaction costs.
Mr. Macchiavello shared EDC’s strategy to promote renewable/responsible energy in the region. Citing Chile and Peru, the EDC hinges on the strong support from key stakeholders amidst challenging market conditions. Key considerations of their operations in Latin America include the downtrend in prevailing market prices, international community support in the fight against climate change, the host government’s support for geothermal development as well as multilateral institutions’ support via new mitigation funds.
Mr. Tan narrated how IMI was able to penetrate the Latin American market. IMI, Ayala group’s electronics manufacturing services unit, has secured foothold in Latin America when it built a site in Guadalajara, Mexico. In November 2016, IMI Mexico was honored for contributing to the economic growth of Mexico City, among other manufacturing companies.
Session 5 on “The Experience of Latin American Investors in the Philippines” featured the experiences of Latin American investors in doing business in the Philippines. Mr. Nicolas Bolzico of LM10 Corporation shared how scientific developments in agriculture, including livestock genetics and innovative land farming can be utilized by both Latin America and the Philippines towards achieving food security. But challenges persist in the implementation of partnerships as seen in the lack of economies of scale, scarcity of component resources, and the culture of the stakeholders such as farmers.
The construction industry or the development of cement to build basic and modern structures have a similar experience. Mr. Paul Vincent Arenas of CEMEX emphasized that partnerships between Latin America and the Philippines can be used to develop heritage sites and roads. Legacies and innovations of CEMEX are important components of gaining consumer trust.
Session 6 on “The Way Forward: Towards a More Robust Economic Exchange” discussed the prospects of tourism in the Philippines as an avenue to strengthen economic engagements. Dr. Victor Venida talked about his research on Heritage Tourism and Spanish Colonial Character of Tagbiliran, Bohol. In his presentation, he stressed the need to preserve the Philippines’ heritage sites for tourism.
Dr. Franciso Ramos presented the results of his study on South American’s assessment of strategic operations management of key destinations in the Philippines. The study revealed that the most managed sectors related to the Philippine tourism industry are accommodation, adventure and outdoor recreation, food service, attraction, and staff. On the other hand, the least managed sectors are entertainment, travel, trade, tourism services, transportation, local government, and safety and security.
A summary of proceedings was provided by Dr. Dennis Coronacion of UST following the presentations.
The closing remarks was delivered by Dr. Fernando Albada of Ateneo de Manila University and Dr. Sylvana Camacho of University of Asia and the Pacific.
PACLAS was established in 2002 under the auspices of the DFA. Its members are Ateneo de Manila University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran – Intramuros, De La Salle University, Philippine Institute for Development Studies, University of Asia and the Pacific, University of the East, University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, and the FSI.