Philippine senate votes to drop foreign ownership caps on telcos and more

Philippine foreign ownership
FILE PHOTO: Manila, Philippines, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine senators on Wednesday approved a bill that will allow full foreign ownership of public services like telecommunications, airlines and domestic shipping firms.

The Southeast Asian country, which has been hampered by restrictive ownership limits and bureaucratic red tape, is playing catch-up with many of its neighbours in attracting foreign direct investment.

The bill, which updates a 1935 law, will remove the 40% foreign ownership cap on telecommunications, airlines, shipping, railways and irrigation. Foreign ownership limits will remain on public utilities like electricity, water distribution and the operations of seaports and airports.

“By opening our economy to a diverse set of investors, we could provide our fellow Filipinos with more and better choices,” said Senator Grace Poe, who was one the bill’s principal authors.

The Joint Foreign Chambers, a business lobby group that includes a range of overseas business chambers, welcomed the passage of the bill was approved by 19 votes to three.

Liberalising the economy is one of the key steps needed by the Philippines to secure higher levels of foreign capital enjoyed by its neighbours and to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, opposition senator Risa Hontiveros warned in a speech that allowing full foreign ownership could open the phones, internet-connected devices and critical public facilities of Filipinos “to foreign state and non-state interests that may have malevolent designs on our national security”.

Lawmakers in the lower house in March, 2020, passed a counterpart bill and both houses now need to reconcile their versions before seeking the president’s final approval.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Ed Davies)

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