BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/3 Aug) – The inefficiency of ports and high cost of shipping are among the major issues being faced by the private sector in Mindanao, according to businessmen attending the 21st Mindanao Business Conference being held in this city.
“Our ports are a major infrastructure that is part of the agricultural highway,” noted Raymund K. Salangsang, president of the General Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.
Reed Aeschliman, acting mission director of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said in his speech that the efficiency of Philippine ports is one of key economic issues, noting that several ports are still underutilized despite their “almost doubled capacity in recent years.”
“Still, the productivity and quality of your ports remain an issue for government and business to address. What incentives do private cargo handlers have to invest in equipment and improve productivity?” he said.
Aeschliman cited that inefficiencies contribute to the high cost of shipping, adding that it is through competition that the Philippines will join the ranks of high-performing emerging economies.
For his part, Leonel A. Santos, former president of the Surigao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry and member of the Caraga Regional Development Council (RDC), said competition will eradicate monopoly of shipping industry in the country.
He also mentioned that developments of infrastructure will be fast-tracked with public-private partnership.
Salangsang said high shipping costs may be addressed by amending the country’s Cabotage Law, which gives local shipping operators the exclusive rights to ply Philippine waters, to allow the entry of foreign vessels.
Confident that the Cabotage Law will soon be amended, Roger B. Navarro, former president of the Chamber of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Industries of Northern Mindanao, said the government should prioritize addressing the lack of post harvest facilities.
He cited cold storage and sorting equipment for vegetables; abattoir for livestock; and grains terminal at the ports are some of the facilities that most regions need.
Salangsang pointed out that the government has to improve major ports that are destinations of large vessels instead of pouring resources in building more small ports.
There will be lower freight cost if shipping goods are consolidated in major ports, thus it is also important to build road networks leading to these strategic ports, he added.
The GenSan chamber is urging the national government to privatize ports to improve their efficiency and attract more shippers from the regions.
“The problem with our national government is that it is still hesitant to privatize our ports. We wanted to fast-track the privatization,” Salangsang said.
He added that the private sectors in GenSan already passed a resolution to privatize ports, and it is fully supported by RDC 12.
He also said private firms running the ports will help develop agricultural areas to increase production and consequently increase shipping activities.
Aeschliman said modernizing and restructuring the shipping and ports industries can ensure Mindanao’s success for the future.
The United States, he said, will continue to align its assistance to focus on reforms that improve the business environment and competitiveness of the Philippines, including the creation of an investment climate that attracts foreign and domestic investors. (MindaNews)