“Profiteers at work”: APRN hits US trade and investment team’s ‘leg work’ in Southeast Asia

By APRN | March 12, 2024

The US trade and investment mission led by the US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo arrived on March 11 in Manila, Philippines. The delegation is composed of 21 corporate leaders including technocrats and business executives from energy, engineering, communications, infrastructure, logistics, investment, and supply chain companies.

The Philippine government celebrates the delegation’s two-day visit as president Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.’s trip to Washington last year has “paid off”. Philippine Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual told the press that the main objective of the meeting is to “get the US companies interested in investing (in the country)”.

The Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), a regional network of development and non-profit organizations, pointed out the economic and political implications of this visit.

‘Additional threat’ to the PH economy vis-a-vis proposed constitutional amendment

The Philippine Congress’ supermajority seeks to amend the country’s constitution with a resolution dubbed as an ‘Economic Charter Change’. The clause “unless otherwise provided by law” to be added in the economic provisions will worsen the Philippines’ deep dependence to foreign investments, civil society, people’s organizations, and opposition lawmakers warn. The seemingly innocent general clause is a master key to further liberalize the economy not only on foreign investments.

The US trade and investment delegation’s visit and its respective dialogues with Philippine economic managers have direct implications given the political situation.

Manila-based research organization IBON Foundation, an APRN member, underscored that reducing restrictions in the economy does not automatically warrant foreign direct investment (FDIs) nor does it guarantee economic development. In the same way, FDIs do not necessarily create “meaningful jobs”.

Source: IBON Foundation

“Like all foreign investors, these American firms are just looking to profit from [Filipino] workers, natural resources, and the domestic market. Contributing to the economy is just public relations spin”, IBON Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa said.

He also hit on the Philippine economic team’s “misplaced pride in being a mere Southeast Asian address for foreign capital” and pointed out that “the [PH] government should be strictly regulating [its economy] to build national brands in Filipino industry”.

Nuclear and clean energy investments under the US-PH 123 Agreement

Among the motives of the delegation is the possibility of nuclear power projects in the Philippines as part of promoting “clean energy”. The 123 Agreement signed in November 2023 during Marcos’ visit to White House facilitates and enhances US-PH cooperation on clean energy investment opportunities.

Joice Leray, Research and Advocacy Officer of the Center for Environmental Concerns (another APRN member) contested the “so-called ‘just energy investments’ by the US” which, according to them, “are greenwashing doublespeak to exploit Philippine lands and natural resources” the same way “it has plundered the [country] during its direct colonial rule”. 

Philippine CSOs and human rights groups have criticized the agreement stressing that it will only entrench the country’s energy sector to foreign corporate hands, not to mention the human risks nuclear projects can pose.

Despite greenwashed attempts, Western corporate powers failed to make CSOs rally behind their slogans, especially that there are obvious political interests behind US’ maneuvers in the Asia Pacific region.

“The US is bent on obtaining its digital, energy and minerals security and lead in innovation economy in Asia Pacific, amid its bid to contain China. It just needs a willing host, and what better choice does the US have than its most loyal lackey, the Philippine government”, Rosario Guzman, IBON Foundation Research Head said.

The Indo-Pacific Strategy

The mission led by Raimondo will visit Thailand next on March 13-14 to “strengthen economic relationships” between the two countries. She will also participate in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) Ministerial which would be the first assembly after its November meetings.

Raimondo even said that the United States aims to be the Indo-Pacific “economic partner by choice” vis-a-vis its competition with China in the region and that the “[US] have to show up and show up in the country with money, with collaboration and consistently show up”.

Given the political motives of IPEF, it would be ‘feigning blindness’ to not see the intent of Raimondo’s team.

APRN believes that these efforts by the US especially with its ‘elite team’ of technocrats and investors is not for development or cooperation with the countries or the region. First, it is attempting to gain willing host countries to resolve its economic crisis; second, it is ‘testing the waters’ to identify who would rally behind it against China’s influence.

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