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Ford considers RP hub expansion, cites concerns
« on: December 15, 2007, 08:51:38 AM »
MANILA, Philippines--FORD Motor Co., whose officials have expressed continued optimism in the Philippines, could expand its production facility here by up to seven times if local economic growth continued and regional integration opened up more markets in Southeast Asia.

Liam Benham, Ford's vice president for governmental affairs in Asia-Pacific and Africa, said the company was continually looking at expansion opportunities in the country although there were no short-term plans so far.

"Ideally, a facility should be producing 100,000 units to 200,000 units yearly," Benham said.

"This is a possible future for [our Philippine operations] as the ASEAN market is still largely untapped, but we have to make a competitive situation to make that a feasible reality," he added.

Ford's facility in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, has the capacity to turn out some 31,000 units of vehicles yearly, but it is only producing barely half of that.

Benham was part of a business mission sent by the US-ASEAN Business Council. It was here on a three-day visit that wrapped up Friday.

The Bangkok-based official said the business mission met with various executive officials, including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and business-related bodies such as the National Competitiveness Council.

"It is heartening to hear that there are deeply-rooted efforts to make the country more competitive," Benham said. "It is more so when one considers that Ford enjoys (some conveniences here) that are unparalleled in ASEAN."

However, he said that amid continued optimism, the need to address hurdles to growth and expansion remained urgent.

He said two of the greatest concerns among investors in the Philippines were the problems of smuggling and high cost of power.

Further, Benham said the strict implementation of the ban on the importation of used vehicles was needed as this was the biggest barrier to the expansion of the domestic vehicle market.

Benham said Ford was also anticipating the opening up of markets in the region with the realization of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Economic Community.

"Non-tariff barriers in Malaysia and the tax system in Thailand are currently discouraging Ford from exporting more vehicles to these countries," he said.

Benham echoed US-ABC president Matthew P. Daley, who expressed hope that "economic integration, in tangible and practicable ways, could be accelerated."

"We are fully committed to the Philippines, which is a very key hub for Ford in the Asian region," Benham said.

"We export not only to ASEAN but to farther regions as well. We have started shipping out flex-fuel engines to as far as South Africa, which is 12 hours by plane," he added.

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