MANILA, OCTOBER 15, 2003  (STAR) By Marianne Go  - US carmaker Ford Motor Co. is investing an additional $50 million in its manufacturing plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, in line with its commitment to turn the Philippines into its export hub in the region.

The investment, to be made over several years, will be spent on plant upgrades as the company produces vehicles for export, Ford chairman and chief executive officer William Clay Ford said.

"One of the things that we think of as a company is obviously we’re investing for the long term," he said.

Ford, great-great grandson of car pioneer Henry Ford, made the announcement after a courtesy call on President Arroyo yesterday.

He was accompanied by his local representative, Henry Co, president of Ford Motor Philippines, Trade Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Trade Undersecretary Greg Domingo, head of the Board of Investments.

The company’s decision to invest further in the Philippines and boost its exports is "well aligned" with the Arroyo administration’s motor vehicle development program, Ford said.

"This is a great moment for the Philippine economy," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President issued Executive Order No. 224 two weeks ago, granting tax incentives to encourage vehicle makers to increase exports and eventually turn the Philippines into a regional export hub.

Although the tax incentives will mean less revenue for the cash-strapped government, Mrs. Arroyo said the "temporary export incentives will compensate for certain structural deficiencies that inhibit the automotive industry’s attainment of global competitiveness."

"The benefits from the development of the automotive industry’s global competitiveness will outweigh the tariff revenues to be foregone from the grant of preferential tariff on imports," she said in her order.

It was not immediately known how much the government will lose because of the tax incentives.

"We are hopeful that Ford will be the first manufacturer to avail (itself) of this incentive that the government now provides to all car manufacturers," Roxas told reporters.

"Because completely built-up units will now be made here and exported to other countries — and in that context that these elements of the motor vehicle program which are designed to ensure a healthy domestic market as well — the incentives for the export of vehicles was put forth."

Ford said a "clear commitment from the governing leadership towards progressive policy reforms is vital to the survival of the auto industry and provides a sustainable business environment for automotive investors."

Ford Motor Philippines, so far, is the first local carmaker to manufacture and export units to Thailand and Indonesia.

The company’s plan to increase production at its Sta. Rosa plant "will benefit the people of the Philippines by creating new job opportunities, not only with Ford but also from our parts and components suppliers," Ford said.

The plant produces 15,000 units annually, half of which are for the domestic market. Ford plans to boost production to 20,000 next year.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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