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3 PH projects up for China funding

Body convenes after 5-year inactivity to draw up overall framework for bilateral economic cooperation

After a five-year hiatus, top Philippine and Chinese trade officials have convened in an economic and trade cooperation body that outlined the priorities under the Duterte administration, starting with three infrastructure projects worth a combined $3.43 billion.

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, along with newly appointed Chinese Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan, signed Tuesday the summary of discussions for the 28th Philippines-China Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation (JCETC).

This is the first JCTEC under the present administration, marking a renewed interest on both sides after tensions over a territorial dispute over the West Philippine Sea spilled over to also affect the trade and investment fronts.

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The discussions, which Lopez outlined in 10 key points, included three priority projects that are expected to be launched some time this year.

In a short press briefing following the formal signing, Trade Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo identified the first batch of projects: The Chico River pump irrigation project ($53.9 million), the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project ($374 million) and the South line of the North-South railway ($3 billion).

“We still have to finalize all these in our submission to the Chinese government,” he said.

More details are expected to be fleshed out later this year, according to a senior official from China’s Ministry of Commerce (Mofcom).

“Basically we would try our best to launch the first two projects—the Chico River project and the Kaliwa Dam project—by the first half of this year, then for the north-south railway we will try to launch the project by the end of this year,” Mofcom director General Wu Zhengping said.

Asked to explain what he meant by the project launch, Wu said that they were yet to form the necessary arrangements, adding that the Chinese government has not yet identified the companies that would undertake the first batch of projects.

“Contracts haven’t been signed and loan agreements haven’t been signed so we cannot say, as of this moment, the specific terms and conditions of the launch,” he said.

As part of the JTCEC discussions, Lopez said that top officials of the two governments would sign this month an agreement regarding the Six-Year Development Program for Economic and Trade Cooperation (SYDP).

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The SYDP, according to Lopez, would serve as “the overall framework for bilateral

economic cooperation within this administration.”

“As we embark on renewed ties, it is imperative that we look back and recall that, in truth, the ties of friendship between us were never completely severed and continues to this day,” he said during a press briefing in an implied reference to the territorial dispute.

The remaining key points of the 28th JCETC included a call for an exchange of notes on the operational procedures to use China’s concessional loans to support Philippine government projects, Chinese grants for the construction of two bridges over the Pasig River and conduct of capacity building programs for rice experts and aquaculturists.

The meeting also touched on the establishment of an alert mechanism and undertaking prompt notification on the incidence of plant and  animal diseases as well as the development of a protocol governing the handling and resolution of cases of detection and  noncompliance.

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