Renato N. Dueñas, Jr, consul general of the Philippines in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

From politics and culture to trade and investment, the UAE and the Philippines share a prosperous relationship. Filipino expertise has been a part of the UAE’s progress since the nation was formed five decades back. Today, the UAE is not only a priority market for Philippine exports, it is a major source of foreign investment in the Philippines.

The Philippines’ newly appointed consul general in Dubai, Renato N. Dueñas, Jr, has sought to further consolidate bilateral ties.

“My focus has always been on cultivating our relations with various agencies of the UAE government, particularly those that have a direct impact on the welfare of overseas Filipinos in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. These include immigration, labour, law enforcement, culture, education, health, and business,” says Dueñas.

“Recently, we conducted the overseas voting for the 2022 national elections. We could not have done it in an orderly and safe manner and reached a record number of voters without the assistance of the local authorities, particularly Dubai Police,” he says.

“We also aim to work closely and strengthen ties with other institutions and non-government organisations that support our interests as one of the biggest expatriate communities in the country.”

Bilateral economic relations

Trade and investment activities have always been paramount in the Philippines’ relations with the UAE. Earlier this year, both countries have agreed to launch the negotiations for a future Comprehensive and Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that will strengthen trade, enhance investment flows, remove unnecessary barriers to trade, and create new business opportunities.

The UAE is the Philippines’ biggest export partner in the Middle East. In 2021, total trade between the Philippines and the UAE grew by 34.7 per cent to reach Dh3.5 billion ($951 million) from Dh2.6 billion ($705 million) in 2020. In terms of investments, the UAE ranked as the 17th top source of approved investments in 2019, valued at Dh48 million ($13.2 million).

At a bilateral meeting in February, Ramon Lopez, Secretary of the Philippines Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), said, “The Philippines may serve as a strategic hub for the UAE in the Southeast Asian region, as economic activities continue to shift to Asia. Active engagement between government and business sectors is key in ensuring that both countries will maximise benefits of the agreements, including diversifying and expanding economic interests.”

Lopez also highlighted that this is an opportune time for UAE investors as the Philippines develops the necessary investment landscape through significant economic and regulatory reforms.

The consulate general in Dubai is actively engaged in promoting trade and investment opportunities in the Philippines.

“We work hand in hand with the Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC)-Dubai, which is the lead agency when it comes to promoting trade and investment in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. During Expo 2020, the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai participated in a number of events aimed at increasing exports of Philippine-made products to the UAE and beyond as well as attracting foreign investors to locate in Philippine economic zones,” says Dueñas.

Apart from consolidating economic relations, the consulate has taken various measures to engage with the community members. “The number of Filipino expatriates in Dubai and the Northern Emirates is estimated at about 400,000. We actively engage with the Filipino community mainly through social media in recent times. Social media allows us to communicate our programmes and policies to such a large group pretty effectively.

“We also hold consultation meetings with and participate in events organised by various Filipino groups, as well as organisations such as the Filipino Social Club and the Philippine Business Council. We also attend as many community events as possible as these gatherings allow us to engage with them directly.”

Today, the consulate general in Dubai organises an intimate ceremony to commemorate Philippine Independence Day. “Due to UAE’s announcement of a 40-day mourning period for President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the consulate will not be holding any big National Day celebration this year. This will be an opportunity for us to reflect on the past two years —a difficult period for all due to the pandemic, and to reorient ourselves to help address the present and future challenges better.” ■