Where are American investors?

September 15, 2018
Clark Freeport Zone

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has questioned the absence of American investors in the Duterte administration’s flagship infrastructure project to develop the Clark Freeport Zone, a former United States military airbase, into the country’s next big metropolis.

In a meeting with Assistant Secretary Manisha Singh of the US State Department, Dominguez said the absence of American investors in the bidding for the New Clark City development project could indicate that American investors “have no interest” in taking part in the Philippines’ economic emergence, anchored on the “Build, Build, Build” program, the Department of Finance revealed in a statement Thursday.

He told Singh, who handles the State Department’s economic and business affairs, that he had asked the same question before members of the US-ASEAN Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (AmCham) in his separate meetings with them earlier this year.

The finance chief pointed out that the Philippine government, which is funding the transformation of the former US military base into New Clark City, had announced the public bidding for the project before the international community, but no American companies took part in the bidding process.

“Last time I spoke with (members of) the US-ASEAN Business Council and the US Chamber here, I asked them one question. Why did they not bid for the project in Clark? The refurbishment of the Clark airbase is done with our own funds. The project is around USD250 million. We bid this out around this time last year,” he told Singh during the meeting.

Dominguez said the Philippines welcomes US companies here, as their investments could prove to be beneficial to the country’s fast-growing economy. According to him, some American companies have submitted bids but only for the design component of the New Clark City project. “Maybe they don’t have an interest here,” Dominguez told Singh.

Singh, in response, said she will speak with leaders of US infrastructure companies to tell them about the immense investment opportunities in the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration. “We would like to participate, we would like to engage,” she said, noting that there might have been some “disconnect” that needs to be corrected to ensure that US companies are aware of the opportunities in the Philippines.

Dominguez informed Singh that New Clark City would be complemented with the development of the Clark International Airport, which will include a new passenger terminal and possibly a second runway. This new metropolis will have a new backup government center, world-class sports facilities, and industrial estates.

Singh said she will explore a possible tie-up between US and Japanese companies in investing in New Clark City.

During the meeting, Singh also discussed with Dominguez US President Donald Trump’s new Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to enhance US private sector participation in the region that includes Japan, India, the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia, among other countries.

The US program also involves improving digital connectivity and cybersecurity in the region, promoting sustainable infrastructure development, and strengthening energy security and access.

Dominguez said the Indo-Pacific Strategy, in relation to the Philippines, is a “timely” effort given that bilateral trade between the Philippines and US has been expanding at a slow pace.

He also welcomed Singh’s statements on the progress of negotiations for a US-Philippines free trade agreement, with a new meeting set soon between the trade officials of the two countries.