Monday, 2 February 2009

Philippine President Arroyo talks tough in Davos

President takes Obama to task
By Angelo S. Samonte
The Manila Times

President Gloria Arroyo said the United States must take the lead role in reversing the global recession and developed nations must give developing countries more voice in running the world economy.

“What we want is for America to do something because the last thing we want is for America to do nothing. It may be vague on what should be done, but the worst thing is for [America] not to do anything,” President Arroyo said during a plenary session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday.

“It is ironic that the developing countries now are doing better than the developed countries, and yet if they will not have a say on how to structure the world economy that’s really wrong. So we need to have the developing countries represented in a bigger way, they have something to share, they [have been] able to keep their countries resilient,” she told forum participants.

Mrs. Arroyo took the US to task for the global recession when she was asked during the forum on “Rebooting the Global Economy” if a planned borrowing by Washington this year from international lending institutions would ease out the Philippines and other developing countries from the debt market.

“Of course, we know that America is by far, well, the biggest economy, the single biggest economy in the world. We would have wished that this didn’t happen. But Filipinos love America. And what we can say is that it is so easy to have 20-20 vision on hindsight,” she said.

Rebooting the global economy, the President added, suggests something pretty radical because when countries try to stimulate it, they must turn the entire economy off like a computer.

“But the economy, we cannot turn it off. We cannot wipe the slate clean. We cannot start all over again because there are people involved, there are lives involved,” she stressed.

The President pointed out that “what is important here is that we must not neglect those who feel the hardship of the global downturn the most, and that is the poor.”

She proposed three solutions to reenergize the world economy: “Number one, we need a fundamental reform of the global financial regulation; Number two, Doha must continue, must be completed, and that is where the interest of the developing countries can take their rightful place in the global structure of the economy; and Number three, G7 must expand into a G20 or even a G30.”

In mentioning Doha, the President was referring to the Doha Round of talks of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

When asked by moderator Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg, about her “optimism that we are going to move to a G20 regime” even as the G20 countries are also encountering problems, Mrs. Arroyo explained: “The others have said in this platform, the meeting of the G20 in April is going to be a very important meeting so that is already one.”

“That is one indication of how important and how useful the G20 can be,” the President said. “But we must even go beyond the G20 because we need to [be] represented in the coordinated policy-making in the world’s diverse kinds of economies. Because if we do not have diverse economies represented on the table, then perspectives would be lost, and new ideas will not be gained.”

Mrs. Arroyo argued that developing countries must be represented in a bigger way because they have something to share. “How were they able to keep their countries resilient? They have that [resiliency] to share.”

She also told the forum that the Philippines is prepared for the global economic downturn because the Philippine banking system is liquid and the country has readied its funding needs for the entire year.

“Actually, as far as the Philippine government is concerned, we’ve already financed our needs for the rest of the year. So we’re not worried about that,” the President said.

“And as far as the private sector is concerned, we have a lot of liquidity in our Philippine banking system. In fact, in our fiscal stimulus package that we have, the private banks are going to be a very important part of it,” Mrs. Arroyo added.

The government is doing everything to mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis on the country, saying there are programs in place to assist displaced overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs).

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, who officially assumed his new post on Sunday, said the President had ordered the Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to step up government efforts to provide all possible assistance to returning OFWs.

These programs, according to Remonde, include providing OFWs with loans that they can use to put up small businesses and training them on other skills that would qualify them for jobs in other countries.

He said that the President is stopping over in the Middle East on her way back from the World Economic Forum to look for more job opportunities for Filipinos in the oil-rich region.

Despite displacement of some OFWs from their jobs abroad, there are also other countries such as Australia and New Zealand and those in the Middle East that are still viable overseas job markets for Filipinos, Remonde added.

He also pointed out that during the last Cabinet meeting before the President left for Davos, “we had the impression that there are more job openings in other job markets abroad than there are OFWs losing their jobs.”

Remonde called for calm and sobriety, saying resorting to “alarmist” pronouncements and actions would be counter-productive for the country, the economy and the people.

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