Legislators look into stronger Russia-PH ties

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Sunday, November 17, 2013


FOLLOWING a six-day visit to Moscow, Russia last month, two lawmakers in the Philippines are considering the creation of the Philippines-Russia Youth Friendship Association to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

Quezon City fifth district Rep. Alfred Vargas, who was in Cebu recently, said one way to strengthen the bilateral relations of both countries is through enhanced people-to-people exchange between Russians and Filipinos.

Vargas, who headed the Philippine delegation, said the association can be established within the year. He said they will be the point organization for student exchange and youth affairs programs of both countries.

“Through this exchange program, both countries will be able to get to know each other’s culture better. The cultural exchange can be the foundation for better political and economic relations,” said Vargas, in a press conference held at the office of Liloan Mayor Duke Frasco.

Delegation

Vargas was the head of the five-member Philippine delegation who went to Moscow to explore opportunities in Russia in areas of culture, education, trade and tourism.

Kabataan partylist Rep. Terry Ridon and Mayor Frasco were among the local government officials who joined the trip.

Vargas also said they are planning to stage a Russian Film Festival here and showcase Filipino movies in Russia.

“This film festival in Moscow will enable Russians to get to know the Philippines better and vice versa,” said Vargas. He added they will also link various universities here with those in Russia to facilitate student exchange programs.

“These people-to-people exchange will somehow open Russians to get to know Filipinos better, that we are more than just the domestic workers in their country,” said Frasco.

Aside from boosting cultural exchanges, Frasco said the objective of the trip is to boost trade and foreign direct investments of both countries and to minimize the trade gap. He noted that the Philippines imported $990 million worth of goods from Russia in 2012 while its export stood at $60 million.

Major export products from the Philippines to Russia include aircraft parts, coconut, carrageenan, lighters, personal care products and banana chips.

The Philippines and Russia have had diplomatic relations for 35 years.

Frasco said if we are to take advantage of the huge trade opportunities in both countries, Cebu furniture and mangoes and the country’s other exotic fruits like durian will surely have a place in the Russian market.

“Dried mangoes for instance, are considered premium high-end products in Russia and are only sold in selected shops,” said Frasco. “There is really a huge market opportunity for local products here to penetrate the Russian market, even agricultural products such as rice.”

Aside from widening the market for Philippine made goods, Ridon said they are also talking with Russian investors on the prospects of energy investments here. He noted that Gazprom, the only producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas in Russia, has already expressed interest in exploring opportunities in the Philippines.

The company is among Russia’s five largest oil producers and is the largest owner of generating assets in Russia.

Investment talks

Investment talks on traffic and security systems are also underway, Ridon said.

Russian Federation Honorary Consul Armi Lopez-Garcia said the recent trip of the Philippine delegation is a big boost to Russia- Philippines partnership. She said these efforts will translate to more tourist arrivals, investments and business partnerships.

Garcia noted that the entry point of making Russia consider the Philippines as an investment destination is through tourism.

However, the lack of direct flights to Russia and the lack of tourism promotions remained a challenge in increasing Russian arrivals here.

But Garcia said the inaugural flight between Manila and Vladivostok last month carrying 100 Russians through the Philippine Airlines is a welcome development.

Ridon said negotiations are also underway to mount more direct flights for both countries.

The Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Philippines, Ridon said has also expressed full support and committed to continue exchange programs like this to strengthen the bilateral relations of Russia and the Philippines.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on November 18, 2013.

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