Brilliant! UK’s Beaufils makes history
Laure Beaufils already made history when she became the first female British Ambassador to the Philippines.
And she intends to achieve even more as she embarks on her tour of duty that coincides with the celebration of the 75th year of warm diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United Kingdom.
Beaufils is also coming in after the United Kingdom broke away from the European Union. She believes this means that relations in diverse fields such as art, education, trade, investments and politics will become even more productive.
Beaufils brings to the table a solid background in diplomacy. Prior to holding this key post, she worked in various positions in the UK government. She was the lead strategic adviser working for the British Prime Minister in his role as co-chair of the UN secretary general’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda. She also led teams working on climate change strategy, adaptation and forestry and worked for the UK mission to the United Nations as first secretary responsible for development.
She has lived and worked in Rwanda, Ethiopia, India, Cambodia, Jordan, France and the United States and jumped at the chance to add the Philippines to the list.
In this interview, Beaufils talks about the nature of United Kingdom-Philippines relations and where she believes the potential areas of greater cooperation are.
Question: Investment pledges continue to come in from the United Kingdom, which shows the continuing interest of British companies in the Philippines. Why do you think that is? What is the attraction, where are the cooperation areas between the two countries?
Beaufils: To me, that’s a really important signal that British businesses overall stayed very positive about the Philippines’ prospects, in particular the long term prospects. So perhaps that’s my main point to you.
Now, there’s no denying that the pandemic has impacted our trade and indeed our bilateral trade reduced by about a third since the start of the pandemic so that’s been tough. And it’s been tough not just with the United Kingdom but with all international partners in the Philippines because of the inevitable restrictions and disruptions linked to the lockdown and travel and all of that.
But we hope to return to prepandemic levels before too long and that is 2.3 billion pounds’ worth of trade every year so that’s exciting. And our ambition is to increase that further.
And while the last year has been hard for many businesses, It’s also true that some British companies have done well despite the pandemic, so just perhaps to give you two examples: Safeguard Biosystems, which is a British company that has worked through a local joint venture and created Safeguard DNA Diagnostic—they were able to setup shop in Manila just before the pandemic and they brought with them state of the art molecular diagnostics technology system and with the pandemic, they adapted to support the COVID response and they’re now undertaking RT-PCR testing in three labs in the country, including in Davao and Bacolod.
Another example is Michael Page, which is a globally recognized recruitment consultancy firm and it has opened its Makati office just last year despite the challenges.
So I think it’s been really hard but some businesses have really made it work for themselves and others are keeping that long-term prospect. [Another] point is that that United Kingdom has used the last year to drive developments in trade policy. As you know, the United Kingdom has left the European Union, and when we did, we rolled forward the EU’s General Scheme of Preferences, the GSP+. That’s now the trade policy that applies to Philippine exports to the United Kingdom. But we have launched a consultation on a UK specific mechanism to replace GSP+. So we’re looking at lower tariffs in some areas, we’re looking at simpler rules of origin requirements, and we’re having this really exciting consultation on that, with the objective of having our own UK-designed scheme, which will be in place in the next year or so. So that I think is quite exciting when it comes to developments in trade and business.
Q: And then you mentioned about the 2-M pound trade relation between the two countries—what accounts for the bulk of that?
B: Electrical machinery and mechanical appliances are the largest goods categories exported and imported between the United Kingdom and the Philippines but the statistics don’t always give the full picture of what is happening. My team is focused on developing trade opportunities across education, infrastructure, defense, some health care … services in that space, defense and retail. So when you look at our businesses here, you will recognize the big names that you’re familiar with, Unilever, Shell, HSBC, Prudential, PruLife, GSK, AstraZeneca, Diageo, Dyson to name just a few. My point is that our trading relations are diverse, there are so many different sectors that are of interest to us, and we are confident we can build on what’s already been accomplished and do more.
Q: What are the areas you think investors can concentrate on for potential partnerships?
B: One sector that I think is really exciting right now is education and I know there’s a very live debate in the Philippines about education right now and it existed before the pandemic. But the pandemic has shown us that new technologies have a key role to play in education—digitally or virtually working is essential and the United Kingdom is a leader in that space and we’ve got a lot of companies that are really market leaders on digital learning platforms or curriculum content for example.
I think there are lots more opportunities for British business as well on infrastructure, so the government’s “Build, Build, Build” agenda has a lot of opportunities and we, as the United Kingdom, offer services from the whole lifecycle of the infrastructure program: from the design services to the solutions and the equipment. So there is already quite a lot that we’re doing in rail, in airports, in renewable energy, bridge projects, and I think we can really do more there. And we can build in the environmental and climate angle, which you know is something that really matters to us as well. So I think there’s an opportunity to do that with a green angle as well and again, I think British business are really effective in that space.
I think on the health care side, there are lots of opportunities, the pandemic has changed the engagement on health quite a lot so there’s a lot of opportunities for new medical technologies and digital health solutions to support innovations in Philippine health-care service quality and reach. We’ve spoken a lot over the last year about our focus on vaccines and I’m really happy to go back to that and how we worked with AstraZeneca, if that’s of interest. But beyond the vaccines, there’s a lot on medicines for cancer and noncommunicable diseases like diabetes or respiratory diseases where I think we can lean in as the shape of health care changes here in the Philippines.
And those are just three sectors; there’s defense that we can talk about, there’s retail, financial services and others.
Q: For climate, because the make-or-break meeting will be held soon in the United Kingdom, do you think that the policies on sustainability are slowly becoming embedded in the corporate world?
B: Yes, I think so, and I think some businesses are not just taking onboard legislation and changes in regulations as they evolve but some are actually leading the way, and being really progressive in how they address sustainability. Others are reading the tea leaves so to speak and sensing that there will be business opportunities related to a more green, low-carbon development in business opportunities, so I think there’s a lot of interest in renewable energies and a lot of research and investment and money that’s going into that to make those technologies more affordable.
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