Time to amend FIA

September 30, 2019

Any law must be serially reviewed, updated, and made relevant to current realities; otherwise, it would become meaningless or, worse, counter-productive.

Economic laws are particularly prone to early obsolescence because of rapidly changing local and gobal economic and business environments.

Hence, the need for their constant review and revisions.

Consider the law on foreign investments.

It is time to amend the Foreign Investments Act of 1991 and ease restrictions on foreign direct investments in order to attract more multinational enterprises to the country.

Sen. Imee R. Marcos asserted this as public hearings by the Senate Economic Affairs Committee which she chairs began last Monday, September 23. Three bills seeking to liberalize foreign investments were on tap including her own Senate Bill 1024.

"We need more start-ups that can generate hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs locally and multinational corporations are the biggest sources of jobs in the country and elsewhere," Marcos said.

"The current law needs an update considering that it has not kept up with the rise of online business and the evolution of modern business practices," she added.

With Southeast Asia seeing FDI growth in digital infrastructure, data centers and e-commerce, her bill seeks to include online businesses among domestic market enterprises allowed as much as 100-percent foreign ownership.

Classifying businesses as domestic market enterprises will encourage greater Filipino participation, Marcos explained.

Marcos is also eyeing higher foreign ownership ceilings in the construction and retail trade sectors, which have seen marked growth in the region.

The current 60-percent Filipino-ownership restriction curtails foreign investment in construction, Marcos said, adding that the retail trade sector was also restrictive due to the required paid-up capital of more than $2.5 million for foreign investors.

Such restrictions made the country a "relatively unpromising destination," Marcos said, citing that the Philippines got only $9.8 billion or 6.6 percent of the total $149 billion in FDIs in Southeast Asia last year.

Singapore cornered more than half ($78 billion) of FDIs in the region, followed by Indonesia ($22 billion), Malaysia ($19.3 billion), Vietnam ($16 billion), and Thailand ($10 billion).

Lower Philippine FDI's were also recorded in the first half of 2019, amounting to Php3.6 billion or 38.8 percent less than the $5.8 billion recorded a year earlier, according to the Bangko Sentral.

The government's "negative lists," which name business sectors where foreign ownership is limited, can be more responsive to economic trends if updated annually instead of every two years, Marcos said.