This article first appeared in BusinessWorld Online on 20 July 2010.
It is no accident that I have chosen to travel to Southeast Asia, and in particular the Philippines, for my first major visit as a Foreign Office minister. I have been tasked by British Foreign Secretary William Hague to reinvigorate our diplomatic links with the region. This is because both he and I recognize that if Britain is serious about its future, it has to be serious about Asia.
The center of gravity is shifting in the world as economic power and opportunity moves East and South. There can be no greater sign of this than the current economic recovery: it is Asian economies that are setting the pace and driving global growth.
Britain sees this changing landscape as an opportunity – not a threat. Our long history as a seafaring trading nation has taught us the value of having a global perspective. Economic growth is not a zero-sum game: growth in the East does not mean decline in the West. Quite the opposite. In an increasingly networked world, growth in Asia means more investment opportunities for British companies, larger markets for British goods, and an increased potential for Asian investment in Britain.
Over the past decade, Britain has invested more than any other country in the Philippines – a staggering $9.7 billion of portfolio and direct investments. There are around 200 British companies active in the country, from large multinationals such as Shell, Standard Chartered, and HSBC to many small and medium sized enterprises. This is set to grow. Other than Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the Philippines is one of the top destinations for UK investment into emerging markets. I am encouraged to hear that President Aquino is committed to making the Philippines a more attractive and consistent place for investment, cutting red-tape, and creating a level playing field for investors. The Philippines is in a dynamic and competitive region. Economic reforms will not simply benefit investors, they will help create jobs for Filipinos and make the country richer.
Like any good relationship, ours is not one way. There are some 250,000 Filipinos that call the UK their home – indeed many Filipino workers live in my constituency, where they make a valuable contribution to the community. Such overseas workers benefit the UK by filling gaps in our labor market and of course send remittances back to the Philippines to support their families and through them the Philippine economy. The UK is the largest source of remittances to the Philippines from Europe and fourth largest source globally. These Filipinos have invested their most important commodity by leaving their families to work in Britain. But as the Philippines grows, I expect to see an increase in Philippine companies investing pesos in the UK.
The UK is very much open for business. It acts as a gateway to Europe – the largest single market in the world. Over half of multinationals chose to base their European headquarters in the UK for good reason. We are also one of the most competitive places to do business. Don’t take my word for it: The World Economic Forum rated the UK as one of the most competitive places in the world to do business in its 2009-10 Global Competitiveness Report. The OECD rates us the country most supportive of entrepreneurship in the world. The World Bank rates us as having one of the most flexible labor markets in Europe. On top of all this, we recently announced we would cut corporation tax to 24% to attract new companies to Britain. We are one of the best places to do business anywhere in the world and the British government is determined that we stay that way.
This is the reason why I am optimistic about the future of Britain, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia as a whole. As the world emerges from the recent economic downturn, emerging economies such as the Philippines are joining established economies such as Britain as important players on the world stage. That is to be welcomed and will contribute to growth and prosperity in both countries.
Jeremy Browne, MP, United Kingdom, is the Liberal Democrat member of Parliament for Taunton Deane. He was appointed as the minister of state at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office by the new Coalition Government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on May 14, 2010. He has responsibility for Southeast Asia and the Far East, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Australasia, the Pacific, and Overseas Territories. He also leads on Human Rights, Consular Policy, the 2012 Olympic Games, and Public Diplomacy.
This article first appeared in BusinessWorld Online on 20 July 2010 - read the original article here.