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Biz council calls on government to ‘go-digital’ in the fight against COVID-19

ABAC Philippines (ABAC PH) urged the Department of Trade and Industry to address the short- and long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to business and the economy. The group represents the Philippines to the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), the private sector body in the APEC process.

In a letter to Secretary Ramon Lopez, ABAC PH called on the government to implement measures, including possible efforts with our ASEAN neighbors and key trade partners to ensure free flow of goods and services. “This kind of initiative builds trust, fosters trade, promotes open markets, and more specifically, facilitates the movement of people and help secure steady supply of food, which is necessary as the region fights this pandemic,” said ABAC PH Chair Tomas Alcantara.

This week, business executives in the region called on APEC trade ministers to lead in reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) to ensure that trade remains ‘fit-for-purpose’, especially in responding to the pandemic. ABAC 2020 Chair Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood of Malaysia said, “WTO rules must also be updated for the digital age and support aspirations for sustainable and inclusive growth.” This includes substantive outcomes on e-commerce and a permanent moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmission.

For the Philippines, the council supports digital transformation to propel key industries, particularly the services sector. “Digital technology has already disrupted businesses, and jobs. Now, COVID-19 has ushered in a ‘new normal’,” said ABAC member Sabin Aboitiz. “Online tools and digitally-enabled platforms should be accessible to businesses and individuals to operate and work in a post-COVID environment,” he explained.

ABAC PH also believes digital connectivity is critical in addressing logistics and competitiveness challenges of the Philippines. “We need to fast track building the infrastructure to establish the digital highways that would interconnect the Philippines’ 7,100 islands. This is critical to stimulate our local industries and create the scale in order to fully engage in international trade and be part of global value chains,” said Mr Alcantara. “We need to harness digital innovation to take advantage of our young and talented population, and ensure a future-ready workforce,” he added.

ABAC PH stressed that government interventions should integrate digital technologies to provide innovative solutions in facilitating ease of doing businesses. This will also improve productivity and efficiency in support programs such as for financial inclusion and adaptive learning and training.

Measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 will not be effectively implemented without the collaborative efforts of the government and the private sector. With businesses restarting and economies reopening, ABAC PH urged for public-private dialogue to discuss strategies and lessons that would best benefit the Philippines in the short and long term.