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US touts possible role in PHL nuclear transition


US AMBASSADOR Mary Kay L. Carlson said Washington is moving forward with talks that would unlock US assistance for the Philippines’ transition to nuclear energy.

In a speech before the Makati Business Club (MBC) on Tuesday, Ms. Carlson said signing a “123 agreement” — referring to Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act — would pave the way for US assistance in starting up a Philippine nuclear power industry.

According to the US Department of Energy, 123 Agreements with US partners facilitate the transfer of US nuclear material and equipment, and permit cooperation in technology transfer, scientific research, and safeguards discussions.

Section 123 is mainly concerned with ensuring that foreign nuclear programs are for “peaceful use,” and not intended to lead to a nuclear weapons program.

“Our governments agreed to hold in the coming weeks the first official consultations to prepare for 123 agreement negotiations,” she said. “Completing a 123 agreement will allow for greater civil nuclear cooperation, including the export of nuclear technology.”

“This will be the first step in bringing nuclear power to help address the Philippines’ energy needs,” she added.

The US is also planning multiple trade missions in 2023, Ms. Carlson said.

“These will bring US exporters involved in agriculture, energy, technology and other industries to the Philippines to explore business opportunities,” she said.

“In May, we will also take Philippine companies interested in investing in the US to the SelectUSA Investment Summit,” she added, inviting members of the MBC to participate.

She said a US company is currently exploring setting up in the Philippines a service center that would generate company that had plans to invest in a Philippine-based service center, creating over 1,000 jobs. She did not provide details.

“They credited, in their words, the positive tone of the relationship, particularly President Marcos’ outreach, as one reason for their investment plans,” she said, referring to Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s investment promotion efforts in a visit to New York last year.

US Embassy Counselor for Economic Affairs David Gamble, speaking at the forum, said US companies already in the Philippines are continuously trying to find ways to expand their operations, adding though that their main concerns remain high electricity costs, red tape and difficult logistics in an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. 

“Just that alone to a foreign investor is daunting, right? And so is getting people… through that initial red tape with the LGUs (local government units) and getting all their various business permits,” he said. “We’re ready to work with the Marcos administration to find ways… to ease getting that business up for the first time… Their first successes are really key to trade investment,” he added. 

Ms. Carlson noted that government-to-government collaboration goes hand-in-hand with private-sector engagement.

“Economic relationships between countries are not determined by governments alone,” she said. “Governments like to take credit for things like trade and investment, but the fact is, our countries would not have either without the private sector.”

Ms. Carlson also pitched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), noting that its pillars and its collaborative assessment method is “a better way to address some of the same issues because a lot of the problems with trade are not simply the actual tariffs, but the non-tariff barriers that are usually not as clearly addressed in a trade agreement and can be very problematic.”

Mr. Gamble added: “When we look at where the Philippines wants to go and where it’s going already, looking at things like… data centers and the digital economy, existing trade mechanisms don’t really address some of these issues really well.”

The IPEF, launched in May, counts as participants the US, Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

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