The Philippines ambassador to Qatar, Lillibeth Velasco Pono, stressed that the visit of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Manila is a strong indication of the flourishing relations between the two countries.

In a statement to Qatar News Agency (QNA), the ambassador said "the high-level visit is a strong indication of flourishing relations between our two countries. It also provides an excellent opportunity for the two sides to have a personal exchange of views on bilateral issues and foster greater engagement arising from a shared sense of responsibility as regional and global actors."

She stressed that His Highness the Amir's visit is a great opportunity to broaden the scope of the two nations' existing fields of cooperation beyond people-to-people relations to encompass trade and investment, agriculture, defence, education, energy, and culture.

The ambassador noted that the Philippines and Qatar enjoy excellent relations, bound by 43 years of formal diplomatic ties and enduring bonds of friendship that have gone from strength to strength over time.

"Manila is resolute in keeping cordial ties with Doha and is keen to broaden the scope of the two nations' existing fields of cooperation beyond people-to-people relations to encompass trade and investment, agriculture, defense, education, energy, and culture. The Philippines also intends to enhance cooperation with Qatar before regional and multilateral spaces on issues of relevance to both sides."

She expressed her interest in the convening of the Philippines-Qatar Joint Economic, Commercial, and Technical Committee.

"Once operationalised, this mechanism will serve as a critical platform that will allow various government bodies and institutions from both sides to achieve shared objectives by drawing up relevant action plans and identifying concrete measures to facilitate the conduct of business," she explained.

The Philippines and Qatar have concluded over 20 agreements covering a broad range of thematic areas, including agreements on investments, taxation, air services, labour, establishment of a political consultation mechanism, agriculture, as well as economic, commercial, and technical cooperation.

The ambassador added "we are hopeful that during the visit of His Highness the Amir, we can conclude more MoUs in other key areas of cooperation, particularly in the field of trade, climate change, consular matters, sports, and youth."

She emphasised that the relationship between Philippines and Qatar is founded on robust people-to-people ties, noting that "as of date, there are over 260,000 Filipinos from across various sectors and industries who call Qatar their home and who collectively contribute to the economic vibrancy and dynamism that the peninsula is known for. Their welfare remains a priority for both the Philippines and Qatar."

This relationship is also anchored on trust, mutual confidence, and shared values, she explained, adding the Philippines will continue to collaborate with Qatar in reinforcing the rule of law, equality, and mutual respect as the foundation for the kind of global action that overcomes differences among nations, promotes an inclusive and just society, and facilitates sustainable and just response to challenges such as public health emergencies, humanitarian crises, and climate change.

The ambassador noted that enhancing the already robust people-to-people ties between the Philippines and Qatar is a priority area for the two countries, and they are looking at strengthening engagement in two sectors: culture and labour.

Regarding cultural cooperation, she said discussions are on for a possible conclusion of an MoU for cooperation in the field of culture between Philippines' National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Qatar's Ministry of Culture.

To further deepen understanding between the two countries, the Philippines is also keen to take part in Qatar's Year of Culture initiative, among other cultural programmes, to foster intercultural exchange and strengthen ties between nations and their peoples, she added.

Having one of the biggest expatriate communities in Qatar, the Philippines seeks to create a more visible platform through which it can share its history and culture through arts, sports, food, and education to the public.

The ambassador stressed her country's desire to strengthen cooperation in labour matters so that both sides can continue productive engagement. The envoy said she is looking forward to the reconvening of the Joint Committee Meeting on Labour Matters in the second quarter of 2024.

"We are in constant dialogue with different stakeholders in the Philippines and Qatar, especially the Ministry of Labour, in order to strengthen our mechanisms for cooperation. To this end, we look forward to the convening of the Joint Committee Meeting on Labour Matters to discuss labour issues and other issues of mutual concern," she said.

The ambassador also expressed appreciation for Qatar's active support for the promotion of Philippines culture through the provision of space that allows for the articulation of Philippine artistry, heritage, and creativity, adding Manila hopes this cultural cooperation and partnership will blossom through the formalisation of mechanisms for deeper and longer engagement between the two nations.

THe ambassador stressed that both countries are also working closely to deepen economic cooperation since the full potential of this area of cooperation has yet to be fully tapped.

She pointed out that maritime governance is an area of common action, as both the Philippines and Qatar are States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets out the legal framework for the governance of the world's oceans and seas.

She noted that the Philippines, which is an archipelagic maritime nation, and Qatar, which is a peninsula, can celebrate shared maritime heritage and develop stronger cooperation to keep seas safe, marine ecosystems healthy, and strategic maritime waterways secure, free, and open.

Ambassador Lillibeth Velasco Pono said the trade volume between the Philippines and Qatar amounted close to $600mn with Qatar's exports to the Philippines totaling close to $540mn.

"We are optimistic that bilateral trade will reach its full potential through engagements between the private sector businesses of both countries, which the governments of the Philippines and Qatar are fully supportive of.

"I am happy to note that the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI) have initiated partnerships that would ensure growth in bilateral economic ties," she said.

Both countries are also working closely to foster stronger investment relations she said expressing Manila's interest in having Qatari investors become part of the Philippine economic growth trajectory through participation in the Philippines' investment priority areas, such as in digital and physical connectivity, health, power and energy, agriculture, and water supply.

The Philippines has what it takes to become the next great investment destination with its sound macroeconomic fundamentals, an agile and skilled workforce, and friendly business climate, she said, adding Philippines also serves as a gateway to broader markets in the geo-strategic Indo-Pacific region.

Noting that an economic briefing by a ministerial-level delegation from the Philippines was successfully held in Doha last September, she said the event served as an excellent opportunity for the Philippine side to meet potential partners from Qatar and provide pathways for greater engagement across a wide range of sectors.

The ambassador hailed Qatar's efforts to preserve and strengthen a rule-based international order, which resonate with the Philippines. This boils down to the recognition that a rule-based global order is vital in guaranteeing peace and stability, she said.

The Philippines also recognises the pivotal role Qatar plays in addressing issues of importance in the Gulf region and beyond, the ambassador stressed, noting Doha has a demonstrated history of promoting preventive diplomacy and taking part in mediation efforts for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

She expressed her country's appreciation for Qatar's efforts to facilitate the release of two Filipinos held captives in Gaza in the previous year, stressing that Philippines and Qatar share the mutual objective of seeing an immediate cessation of hostilities in the region and the establishment of a pathway for durable and lasting peace.

"Like Qatar, the Philippines has played a bridging and moderating role in many multilateral settings where polarities have threatened consensus, and it intends to continue discharging this role," the ambassador stressed.

She noted Qatar's accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia in 2022, which acknowledges the primary role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the regional architecture. As such, the Philippines looks forward to Doha's closer engagement with Asean in the coming years, she said.

Qatar's economic policies and openness have elevated the country towards its current position as one of the region's strongest economies, and one of the world's richest, the ambassador pointed out, adding, "I agree with many observers that Qatar's legislative and administrative system is an enabler that promotes and attracts business and investments, propelling the peninsula's vibrant economy. Qatar's economic diversification blueprint forming part of the National Vision 2030 ensures that the social and economic well-being of the nation is secured in the years to come."

She expressed her pride in the contributions of the Filipino community to the development process in Qatar, adding the Philippines recognises the various progressive initiatives undertaken by the Qatar government in recent years to ensure the protection and welfare of Filipinos working in the country.

The ambassador concluded by stressing that "the Philippines regards Qatar as a trusted friend and a reliable partner. As such, we are keen to undertake the necessary steps to draw our nations even closer and underscore our shared commitment to prosperity and peace. As both nations navigate their paths to progress and development in a world increasingly fraught with profound challenges, His Highness the Amir's historic visit to the Philippines is a demonstration of efforts to galvanise the action needed to elevate our bilateral relations to new heights," the ambassador said. (QNA)
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