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Fox among the pigeons

Liam Fox-Rodrigo Duterte meeting

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Liam Fox, was in Manila this week where he met with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (photo). Significantly, it was his first overseas port of call after the triggering of Article 50 – the mechanism by which Britain formally quit the European Union; the moment of Brexit.

Naturally, the meeting had set the cat – or in this case the Fox – among the pigeons and had ruffled feathers among the Liberal Left and its progressive media chums. For them, this story had all the elements – a pro-Brexit Conservative minister, and as such a figure of hate and derision, paying a call on a man they’ve labelled a tyrant, a dictator and a madman to discuss bilateral trade outside the Left-run family of Europe. It was salt in the wound and like a red rag to a bull all at the same time, and the anti-Brexit anti-Duterte mob was having kittens.

Anti-Brexiteer and Tory-loather, Tom Brake, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats – and as such one of just eight LibDems who managed to get elected to the UK’s 650-seat House of Commons – had this to say:

“Duterte is one of the 21st century’s most sinister leaders and Liam Fox has flown halfway around the world to grovel to him. The fact that the first visit made by Fox since triggering article 50 is to the Philippines shows just how low this government is willing to stoop in order to secure even a minimal trade deal in the future. No amount of pandering to corrupt regimes can replace our membership of the single market, which is why the Liberal Democrats will continue to fight against the hard, divisive Brexit this government is pursuing”. Break out the valium for Mr Brake.

The headline on the Liberal Democrats website read: “Liam Fox flies into Philippines to grovel to sinister president for Brexit trade deal”. Here, Brake, who once he got started couldn’t find the brake, accused Fox of being “blind to the horrific human rights abuses and endemic corruption in the Philippines”.

The UK’s cash-strapped and failing pinnacle of biased Leftist reporting, the Guardian, was also going apoplectic. The headline and subheading to its article on the meeting read: “Dismay over Liam Fox’s claim of ‘shared values’ with Duterte’s brutal regime. UK trade minister in the Philippines to meet a president who has publically encouraged civilians to kill drug addicts”. The Guardian has never shied away from emblazoning its lies in a large point size.

The ‘shared values’ refers to a column which Fox penned for the Manila daily, BusinessWorld. Here’s what he wrote: “The UK and the Philippines have a well-established and strong relationship built on a foundation of shared values and shared interests and we want this partnership to continue to flourish”.

A fairly anodyne comment but it was twistable enough for Left. According to the Guardian, that remark “has prompted dismay about the government’s approach to human rights as it seeks post-Brexit trade deals”. And the paper called on anti-Brexit campaigner and the Labour Party’s shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner – a man who’s been accused of trying to stall Britain’s exit from the EU as well as of fiddling his parliamentary expenses – to put some flesh on those bones.

He told the Guardian: “It is frankly shocking that Liam Fox in his speech in the Philippines talked about the shared common values that we have. I’m sorry, but we do not have these shared common values with President Duterte who wants to bring back the death penalty and lower the age of criminal responsibility to nine”.

The irredeemably Left Daily Mirror headlined its hard-line hit piece – a virtual verbatim reproduction of the Guardian article – like this: “Tory Liam Fox cosies up to Philippines President who compared himself to HITLER and called the Pope a ‘son of a whore’”.

Of course all this amounts to nothing more than the Left pursuing their own anti-Brexit, anti-Duterte, anti-UK-Conservative-Party agendas. As usual, there’s no substance and it won’t make an iota of difference to any future deals which Britain strikes with the Philippines. Nor will it inhibit the Philippine-UK relationship which looks like being enhanced.

This, of course, runs contrary to another statement which the Guardian made in its coverage of the Fox visit, that “The Philippines international relations have become strained under Duterte”. We don’t know who or what is working on that paper’s foreign desk but sitting here in Asia we see things very differently.

Since Duterte became president, the Philippines has cemented relations and boosted trade with every single member of the 10-state Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean); it’s strengthened its relationship with Japan whose prime minister, Shinzo Abe, went to the Philippines and made a personal visit to Duterte’s home in Davao City. Japanese trade and investment has also increased. And – although as far as the Left’s concerned this is another black mark against Duterte – he’s put his country’s relations with China on the highest footing they’ve ever been. That’s aside from the US$15 billion-worth of investment projects and US$9 billion in credit facilities he gathered in a single visit to the Mainland last October.

But the Guardian – a bit like the Philippine Liberal Party – never lets the facts get in the way of propaganda. Peppered with the usual disinformation and slurs – the “war on drugs has killed 7,000 people”; Duterte “somewhat of an international pariah” – the article managed to avoid any substantive coverage of bilateral trade or relations.

So here are a few facts that would have been worth mentioning for the benefit of any readers who might want to know more about the potential for enhanced ties between the two countries rather than being served another rehash of the old anti-Duterte, anti-Brexit diet cooked up by bitter Liberal chefs.

The UK is the biggest single investor in the Philippines of any European Union (EU) country with an FDI stock in excess of US$5 billion. In 2015, British exports to the Philippines leapt by 38%, registering the strongest-ever UK export growth across the whole of Southeast Asia. Bilateral business between the two countries leapt by 30% in 2015 to US$2.6 billion – that accounts for 18.3% of all EU-Philippine trade, making Britain by far the Philippines’ biggest European trading partner.

Moreover, UK Export Finance (UKEF), an export credit agency which works closely with the Department of International Trade, has doubled its Philippine-trade support from US$2.81 billion to US$5.62 billion. Among Philippine projects UKEF has supported is the JV between the UK’s Nectar Group and Seasia Logistics Philippines Inc to build a US$18.5 billion dry-bulk terminal at Bataan in Central Luzon in the north of the country, with an annual handling capacity of 3 million tons of steel, coal, cement, silica sand, fertilizer and other dry-bulk cargo.

Meanwhile, Filipino companies have invested US$1.25 billion in the UK since 2014.

According to UK Trade & Investment, a non-ministerial government department, there are presently more than 200 British companies operating in the Philippines. These include banks, HSBC and Standard Chartered; energy company, Shell; retailers, Marks & Spencer, The Body Shop, Topshop, Speedo, Clarks; consumer-goods producer, Unilever; brands distribution, Tesco, Waitrose, Costa Coffee; pharmaceutical biotech company, AstraZeneca; agricultural-equipment manufacturer, JCB; the world’s largest spirits producer, Diageo; business consultancy, Arup; fashion retailer, River Island, and engineering consultants, the Halcrow Group.

Furthermore, the UK already has an establish trade-promotion network in the Philippines including the British Embassy Manila, permanent Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) representation, and the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines, while for the region as a whole there is the London-based UK-Asean Business Council which was established in 2011.

Areas of opportunity for Philippine exports to the UK, according to the DTI’s Export Marketing Bureau are wide ranging – from food to furniture to apparel; automotive parts to electronics.

The Philippines might also look to participate in the South East Asia Prosperity Fund, part of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s US$28 million finance package to support global prosperity and economic growth.

In January last year, Manila and London started crafting the Enhanced Trade and Investment Economic Partnership agreement. Its focus is on infrastructure, sustainable energy and education. That agreement is expected to be completed later this year. The two countries presently have a Bilateral Investment Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments which has been in force since 1981.

As Fox pointed out – and as the above data show – the UK and the Philippines have a well-established and strong relationship. “We want this partnership to continue to flourish,” by exploring “the huge potential for strengthening relations between our countries,” he said.

And that’s what the majority in Britain also want. Just as the Philippines under Duterte has thrown off the shackles of American control and is steering an independent course in trade and foreign relations – picking its partners rather than having them foisted on it – the UK is doing exactly the same.

Brexit broke the fetters of an overbearing Europe that prevented the UK from exercising its sovereignty and pursing its own national interests – not least in trade. The parallels are striking and make the Philippines and the UK natural companions in a new world order that’s rejecting autocracy and the bullying One-World-Government mentality of the progressive Left. Given the ideological differences, it’s easy to see why the Left want Duterte and Britain to fail – though of course they wouldn’t put it quite like that.

The Philippines and the UK, given the history of their relationship and their shared new-found independence, are a natural fit and there’s every chance that ties between these two countries –not just in their mutual trade and investment endeavours – will build quickly and prosper.

Ignoring the Guardian’s usual blatant out-of-context spinning, as Fox said, the two countries have a “well-established and strong relationship built on a foundation of shared values and shared interests and we want this partnership to continue to flourish”. And we’re fairly sure the bulk of the Filipino population want that also – not that the Guardian, the Daily Mirror and the Liberal Democrats care about their aspirations. Actually, they’re blissfully ignorant of them.

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