New U.S. law seen to aid PH infrastructure

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 6) — A new U.S. law creating a government corporation that would provide financial assistance to low or lower-middle-income countries could help with the Philippines' infrastructure projects, the country's envoy to Washington said Thursday.

Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Babe Romualdez told CNN Philippines' The Source that the Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development (BUILD) Act could pour in billions of dollars for infrastructure projects of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"They're putting up billions of dollars to be able to help countries build their infrastructure, specifically in the technology part … for airports and many of our infrastructure," he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed in October the BUILD Act creating the $60 billion United States International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC) which consolidated the Overseas Private Investment Corporation with other development-finance programs.

Romualdez said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and other economic managers plan to visit the U.S. in April to do a "roadshow" on the country's infrastructure projects although he could not yet specifically say which ones could be funded by the USIDFC.

In a statement, the White House had said the BUILD Act showed Trump's commitment to reform U.S. finance institutions "so that they better incentivize private sector investment in emerging economies and provide strong alternatives to state-directed initiatives that come with hidden strings attached."

Many projects under the Duterte administration's ambitious Build, Build, Build infrastructure program are funded by China — something which had caused concern among some opposition lawmakers.  They warned that the Philippines could fall into a "debt trap" where it would be forced to give up critical infrastructure to China as payment for high-interest loans as what happened in other countries.

Proponents of the BUILD Act said that the law was the U.S. response to China's lending to developing countries to finance their infrastructure projects.

The two countries have been embroiled in a trade war, where they impose tariffs on billions of dollars of goods imported from each other.  However, they agreed to a 90-day truce during the G20 Summit in Argentina.

READ: Trump says China will cut tariffs on American cars

Since he assumed office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has been pivoting  away from the U.S., the country's traditional ally, and forging closer ties with China. In speeches, he has said that he needed China for infrastructure projects.

READ: Duterte is Chinese President Xi's 'most important friend' – foreign minister

Romualdez said Manila could maintain a friendship with both Beijing and Washington, noting that ties between the U.S. and the Philippines are "so deep."