Alok Sharma's keynote speech at a UK-Philippine trade and investment event in London
Thank you Ambassador. May I start by offering my sincere condolences, on behalf of the British people, for the appalling attack in Davao City last Friday. We condemn all acts of terrorism, and stand ready to support the Philippines as they confront this threat – one that we face together.
I would like to thank the British Embassy in Manila and the Great Investors teams for organising this event and for all the outstanding work they do in the Philippines. We have a fantastic team led by a very able and experienced Ambassador, Asif Ahmed. I’m proud of the valuable support their expertise provides to both UK and Filipino companies looking to expand into each other’s markets. I’m delighted to see so many UK and Filipino companies here today – it’s a testament to the confidence you feel in doing business together now and the potential you see for further growth in the future.
Before entering politics, I spent 20 years in the financial services sector, so I experienced our dynamic private sector at first hand. It meant I came into politics with a strong personal interest in promoting trade and investment.
As Minister for Asia and the Pacific, I am focused on Asia. With two of the world’s top three economies now Asian; a third of global trade and GDP generated in Asia; and as many as two thirds of the world’s population likely to be Asian within the next decade, it is clear that the region is going to play a major role in our economic future.
This was true before 23rd June and it is all the more true now. The referendum result means that we will be leaving the EU and forging a new relationship with our European friends and neighbours. And it means that we will be intensifying our links with our existing international partners and reaching out to new ones.
Leaving the EU offers us an opportunity to forge a new path at our own pace. To be more active, more agile and more responsive to changing events. To negotiate our own trade agreements whilst continuing to be a strong and positive promoter of free trade.
Importantly, for everyone here today, leaving the EU offers us an opportunity to broaden and deepen our trade and investment relationship with our close friends and important partners around the world, including the Philippines and the wider ASEAN region.
The Philippines has one of the strongest economies in South East Asia. It is forecast to grow well over 6% in the coming years. So it’s no surprise that British investors and exporters are showing a keen interest.
Last year, the UK was the Philippines’ third largest investor. We have consistently been its largest EU investor. Major British investors include HSBC, Glaxo Smith Kline and Shell. British exports to the Philippines grew by 38% last year. UK goods and services are making a difference to high-value sectors, from energy to education and from Smart Cities to science.
And speaking of science, we have increased our Newton/Agham science and innovation partnerships in the Philippines. We have also boosted the number of Filipino Chevening scholars to 26 for this academic year. Both of these programmes aim to enhance expertise: boosting prosperity and promoting closer ties between our two countries.
These ties go back a long way. This year marks 70 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Our long-standing relationship means that we can be frank and open about the values we hold dear. We are clear that democratic accountability, human rights and the rule of law are vital, not simply as an end in themselves, but as part of the foundations for strong and inclusive growth. We will continue to champion these values with the Philippines Government at the same time as we seek to engage with them on our economic and commercial interests.
The recent visit by Richard Graham, our Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to the Philippines, was a concrete sign of that engagement. Richard has a wealth of experience in Asia – as a diplomat, in the business sector and most recently as a Trade Envoy – he also speaks several Asian languages. I’m particularly grateful for the work he does in South East Asia promoting commercial cooperation. In the Philippines he had good discussions with Senior Government Ministers and a range of business and industry leaders, setting out our desire for a stronger commercial relationship between our two countries.
As a tangible sign of our commitment to closer links, the UK Government will fund an expert adviser on airports, infrastructure and Public Private Partnerships – all priorities for the Philippines Government.
The UK has made clear to the Philippines Government and business community that we are steadfastly committed to economic openness, and we have made the case to them for opening up the market to foreign investors, including in sectors that are currently restricted, like education.
Of course everyone wins when trade goes both ways, and I’m pleased that we are also seeing a steady flow of investment from the Philippines into the UK. I’m delighted that Emperador and Monde Nisan, the Philippine companies which acquired Whyte & Mackay and Quorn Foods respectively are with us today. Your firms’ success shows that the UK model works, that British skills, ideas and capabilities can attract investors, and that this arrangement benefits businesses in both countries.
The UK Government has stepped up our engagement with Asia, with five visits by UK Ministers to the Philippines alone since 2010. This focus is set to intensify in the years to come. And to prove we mean business, we have moved more of our diplomatic focus and resources to the ASEAN region.
I’ll finish by reiterating that the Philippines is now, and will remain, an important partner for the UK in the region. The opportunities for British investors are significant. We anticipate major UK investment later this year and, as Asif said earlier, more is certainly yet to come. Asif’s team have indispensible local contacts and excellent commercial expertise. I encourage you to seek their advice. And to our Filipino friends, I will end by saying – Britain is open for business, you are welcome, come on in.