In 2017, the UAE became the Philippines’ largest trading partner in the Middle East, deepening ties that were established in 1980. At $1.49 billion (Dh5.47 billion), the UAE-Philippine trade accounted for 31 per cent of the regional trade valued at $4.81 billion. That trend has continued until now. “Since 2016, bilateral trade has steadily increased,” says Hjayceelyn Quintana, the Philippine Ambassador to the UAE. “In 2016, bilateral trade was $893.11 million. This increased to $1.95 billion by 2018.”
Today not only does bilateral trade make up 31.9 per cent of the Philippines’ total trade with the Middle East, which stands at $6.12 billion, but the UAE is also the Philippines’ 16th-largest trading partner in the world, 15th-largest import supplier, and 20th-largest export market, according to the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre (PTIC) based in Dubai.
Bilateral trade grew as a result of a jump in imports from the UAE to the Philippines, from $831.2 million in 2017 to $1.6 billion last year. “Bilateral trade has been in favour of the UAE due to large imports of petroleum and petroleum products, which are essential requirements for the country’s economic activities,” says Charmaine S. Yalong, Commercial Attaché at PTIC-Dubai, which is tasked with promoting Philippine exports in the Middle East and attracting investments into the country.
With continuous efforts to encourage UAE buyers and importers to look to the Philippines for their requirements, there have been notable increases in other products such as electronic equipment and parts, processed food and beverages, furniture, home decor, other fresh produce and personal care products.
Meanwhile, exports to the UAE decreased from $658.03 million in 2017 to $396.24 million in 2018. Despite the decline, it still accounted for more than half of the Philippines’ total exports to the Middle East ($699.36 million). Refined copper cathodes, fresh bananas, output and input units, static converters and storage units make up its main exports to the UAE. “This [decrease] could be attributed to the decline in the outward shipment of cathodes, sections of cathodes, refined copper and bananas including plantains, fresh or dried,” says Yalong.
Over the years, the country has been trying to diversify its exports, which were dominated by fresh bananas. “With continuous efforts to encourage UAE buyers and importers to look to the Philippines for their requirements, there have been notable increases in other products such as electronic equipment and parts, processed food and beverages, furniture, home decor, other fresh produce and personal care products,” she says. “By participating in UAE trade fairs such as Gulfood and Index Furniture, organising business missions of Philippine delegations to the Gulf, and providing assistance to visiting UAE trade delegations to the Philippines, we hope to improve the level of exports to the UAE.”
It’s not only trade that has witnessed heightened engagement in the past few years. The two nations have continued cooperation in the fields of counterterrorism, agriculture, food security, culture and sports, and labour.
“Our two countries share the same goals for its people: a comfortable, stable and secure life,” says the ambassador. “Both countries reject extremist ideologies, encourage tolerance and have had outstanding gains in the areas of competitiveness and gender equality. And we have 700,000 nationals living in the UAE that has strengthened people-to-people ties between our nations. It is within the context of these shared values and realities that we continue to advance the relations.”