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Autonomous Muslim region, Mindanao dev’t planner to set up investment center

BusinessWorld Online
Posted April 11, 2011

ZAMBOANGA CITY — The government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) have agreed to establish a one-stop shop that will inform investors of regulatory requirements and facilitate processing of applications for permits.

“The agreement is aimed at boosting local and foreign direct investments in the ARMM, which is among the three-pillar thrusts of the new ARMM government, along with reforming its bureaucracy and upholding peace and security,” MinDA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Subject of an agreement signed during the 1st ARMM Economic Summit held in Cotabato City last March 27, the envisioned center forms part of efforts to attract more business to the area that has suffered from an image as being affected by widespread conflict.

The statement quoted MinDa chairperson Luwalhati R. Antonino as saying the one-stop shop should help bring down the time and cost of doing business in ARMM.

“With the memorandum of agreement, MinDA and the ARMM regional government shall establish a one-stop shop that would facilitate business transactions faster, easier and more convenient [sic] for prospective investors,” the statement said.

ARMM — composed of the provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, as well as the island-provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi — has a predominantly Muslim population of about three million.

Years of conflict and corruption at the local level have contributed to persistent poverty and kept away businesses from outside.

MinDA said it hopes the new facility will help lure agro-industrial investments and encourage the setting up of small- and medium-scale enterprises that will generate more jobs for locals.

ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments, in coordination with MinDA, is currently facilitating the entry of two companies that are planning to expand their banana plantations in the region, the statement said further.

It noted a study funded by the Australian Agency for International Development that showed ARMM — as with much of Mindanao — has a climate conducive to producing a wide range of high-value agricultural crops.

The study noted ARMM’s fertile soil yields crops like cassava, white corn and coffee that are superior to those grown elsewhere in Mindanao.

Unlike neighboring regions whose lands are now extensively farmed, there remain large tracts of fertile land available for farming in the region.

The study also noted ARMM’s competitive labor cost.

Data from the Labor department showed, for instance, that ARMM has a daily minimum wage of P232, compared to P389-426 in Metro Manila, P240-305 in Central Visayas and, in a raise approved just last March 26, P240-270 in Central Mindanao.

“It is useful to note that there are a number of companies that have dared to invest in ARMM and have actually done well,” said Cielito F. Habito, a former socioeconomic planning secretary under ex-president Fidel V. Ramos and now economic adviser to ARMM Governor Mujiv S. Hataman.

Mr. Habito cited La Frutera, a banana export venture in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, that supplies multinational firm Unifrutti and Agumil, a Malaysian-owned palm oil processing company in Buluan, also in Maguindanao.

Another example is the Matling Industrial and Commercial Corp. which has been processing cassava into flour in Malabang, Lanao del Sur, since 1928 and is the largest cassava processor in Mindanao, he said.

“Lamsan, Inc. has been manufacturing corn starch and other products from corn in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, for four decades now,” he added.

“Philippine Trade Center, Inc. is another corn starch manufacturer in the same municipality.”

Mr. Habito said another company, EA Trilink Corp., registered a P1.5-billion investment in ARMM last year to upgrade the region’s information and communications technology network. — DTW