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Local anti-pandemic kit production eyed

AJ Bajo

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The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is scouting for foreign investors in a bid to enable the country to locally manufacture test kits for coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

DTI undersecretary for Industry Development and Trade Policy Group, Ceferino Rodolfo, said the government is slated to meet with investors from South Korea partly to discuss the free trade agreement (FTA) between the Philippines and Korea, and to look for possible investors for test kit production here.

“The Korean government sets up the meetings for us along with our commercial attache…they have two companies they want us to talk with,” Rodolfo told reporters in an online briefing last week.

But while the government is eyeing to attract manufacturers for both rapid test kits and real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, with the latter considered as the “gold standard” for COVID-19 diagnosis, Rodolfo said it might be easier for the country to secure an investor for rapid test kits “in the meantime.”

“We’re inviting (investors for) both, except that it’s easier for rapid test kits. We want to have both… it’s just harder for PCR (because) you need laboratory, kits… (But) we’re also going to talk with (investors for) PCR-based laboratories and a PCR test kits maker,” Rodolfo said.

He added that since Korea mainly utilizes PCR-based testing and exports their rapid test kits, the Philippines could be a good hub for manufacturing COVID-related products due to the government’s approach to incentivize the manufacturing of such essential products instead of imposing an export ban.

“The rapid test kits made in Korea are three times more expensive than those made in China. That’s why what we’re saying is, if they do it here, they could lower the price and be more competitive with China,” he said.

Aside from Korea, Rodolfo cited, Japan, China, Taiwan and United States as other possible sources of investors for the production of rapid test kits.

He noted that the Philippines is also competing with other countries for investors, but the country could leverage through its good relationship with South Korea as well as ongoing discussions to improve trade ties through an FTA.

To recall, the Philippines and South Korea last year vowed to resume talks for a “future-oriented” FTA this year, after the parties failed to meet its initial deadline to conclude the FTA in November 2019, owing to vital provisions in the deal that have not yet been ironed out. Rodolfo was re-assigned to head the Philippines’ negotiating team for the FTA.

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