MANILA— Some 200 to 300 businessmen based in the Philippines will be joining President Rodrigo Duterte in his visit to Russia this week, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.
Lopez mentioned there will be government-to-government and business-to-business memoranda of understanding (MOUs) that are set to sign between the two countries.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will be signing MOUs on Trade and Investment Promotion and on Industry Development with its Russian counterpart.
Lopez noted that there are vast trade and investment opportunities between Manila and Moscow, as President Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin aim for stronger and closer bilateral ties.
“Everything is new. What I see here with Russia, it’s newly opened kind of relationship and can be discussed all aspects of cooperation. The main task really is for them to increase awareness on the Philippines, the businesses here, the opportunities,” the trade chief said.
He added that the government will hold a forum on doing business and investments in the Philippines and will also present the ‘Dutertenomics’ to Russian businessmen.
Prior to the meeting of the two heads of state on Thursday, the two countries inaugurated the Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (JCTEC) meeting here last month.
DTI Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo and Russian Ministry of Economic Development Deputy Minister Alexander Tsybulskiy led the first JCTEC meeting of Manila and Moscow.
The JCTEC is a formal platform for the two parties to discuss cooperation on sectors such as trade, investments, iron and steel, aviation, energy, information and communications technology, intellectual property, agriculture, transportation, science and technology, tourism, higher education, and labor.
President Duterte and Putin had their bilateral meeting last year on the sidelines of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Peru, in which the latter committed to buy USD2.5 billion of agriculture products from the Philippines.
The two leaders also met during the Belt and Road Forum hosted by China in Beijing early this month.
Russia was the country’s 33rd trading partner in 2016, with two-way trade reaching USD226.25 million.
Trade was in favor of Russia, with Philippines’ exports only amounting to USD48.93 million while imports from Russia posted USD177.31 million.
Moreover, Lopez said a free trade agreement (FTA) with Russia may be possible through the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and ASEAN FTA.
“They don’t do bilaterals. They do through Eurasia,” he noted. “The ASEAN-Eurasia (FTA) is more realistic (than bilateral FTA between the Philippines and Russia).”
But the official noted that a bilateral FTA with Russia is not urgent since the two countries already have JCTEC.
Also, the Philippines is a beneficiary country under the Generalized Preferential System of Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
The trade chief added that it is also possible, as this year’s chair of ASEAN, to propose for a trade deal with EAEU during an intercessional meeting for the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership on Tuesday in Hanoi, Vietnam.