Don’t fire workers

WITH the pandemic badly affecting the sustainability of businesses, the fate of workers relies on employers. For how can workers be paid of their salary when businesses are no longer earning amid the crippling restrictions brought about by the outbreak.

But the government is addressing this problem by eyeing tax incentives for companies keeping their workforce amid the crisis.  The government is trying to consider additional year of tax holiday or tax incentive as a way to incentivize employers not to remove workers.

The government is pursuing policies, including legislation, which would improve businesses and the investment climate despite the pandemic. These bills include the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill that will reduce corporate income tax to 25 percent from 30 percent; Retail Trade Act to liberalize the retail sector; and the Public Service Act that eases foreign restrictions in some service industries.

The Department of Trade and Industry is hopeful unemployment and underemployment figures in June improved from the 17.7 percent unemployment rate and 18.9 percent underemployment rate in April.

“We hope to see, since we started to reopen latter part of May, we are hoping that the June number would show a slightly better number than 17.7 (percent),” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that 7.3 million Filipinos were unemployed in April as the government placed Metro Manila and the island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the most stringent community quarantine measure, in mid-March. The government started to ease lockdown measures in May.

However, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal reverted to modified ECQ until August 18. These areas have the most number of enterprises in the country and employ a significant number of Filipinos.

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The future doesn’t look so bad for the Philippines. The moment the vaccine against COVID-19 becomes available, the economy is expected to recover fast.

Possible aiding the fast recovery is the country’s trade with other economies in the world. Infact, the government is expecting better trade with Switzerland which recently expressed interest in our coconut fiber.

The Swiss government is eyeing to import coconut fiber from us. Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines Alain Gaschen said the Philippine coconut fiber has a potential market in Switzerland. Gaschen said his country is looking at importing more products from the Philippines, particularly agricultural products. “And one I have been following is the coco fiber,” he said.

The Swiss envoy said the University of Applied Science in Bern has developed a kind of organic plywood made from coconut husks. “They use them to develop a kind of plywood which is as good as any of the alternative for wood but with no chemicals, no glue, no chemicals. It’s purely organic,” said Gaschen. Coconut is one of the Philippines’ top agricultural commodities.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the country’s area planted to coconut is around 26 percent of the agricultural land or around 3.6 million hectares hosting about 339 million coconut trees and 3.4 million coconut farmers. Sixty-eight provinces in the country are also coconut-growing areas.

“Now we are in the process to tap in the potential. We sense that there is potential both ways for more export from the Philippines towards Switzerland and we have a study ongoing,” Gaschen  said. Among the products Switzerland is looking into sourcing from the Philippine are textile, food and processed food, and other sustainable products like the coconut husks.

Gaschen said Switzerland, as a leader of innovation, can cooperate more with the Philippines in the field of medical technology, agritech, and biotech, among others. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaschen said the Swiss embassy is strengthening its partnership with the Department of Health.

He said a Swiss pharmaceutical company is also eyeing to invest in the Philippines in the near future.

On the other hand, the Swiss envoy urges Filipino enterprises to utilize the Philippines-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) free trade deal in exporting to Switzerland. Gaschen said trade between Bern and Manila increased around 9 percent in 2019, a year after the Philippines-EFTA free trade agreement (FTA) took effect.

The FTA between the Philippines and EFTA was signed in Bern, Switzerland in 2016 and became effective in June 2018. The agreement provides duty-free entry of local exports to EFTA countries, which include Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

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