(STAR) By Ma. Elisa P. Osorio - The government is in talks with foreign conglomerates for a possible $1-billion "trophy investment" in the Visayas, the country’s top trade official said yesterday.

In an interview with reporters, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter B. Favila said they are negotiating with at least two firms which he refused to name in the meantime, saying only that he met them in Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum.

Last January, Favila and other government officials accompanied President Arroyo to the economic summit where they met several businessmen who have expressed interest in infusing money in the country.

He disclosed that they are in negotiations with a conglomerate and an exports firm considering investments in the country’s tourism industry. "This will be our trophy investment," he said.

Favila said the investment destination they are pushing is Central Visayas, which is home to many world-class beaches and resorts. Both Cebu and Bohol are located in the region.

As for infrastructure in the area, Favila said they will address the issue by building airports and seaports to facilitate easier travel. Lack of infrastructure has been identified by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as one of the major hindrances to both domestic and foreign investments.

In a separate interview, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Samie Lim said hotel and properties giant Shimao Group of China is seriously considering setting up a five-star hotel and commercial resort in Bohol.

According to Lim, Shimao Group Chairman Hui Wing Mau has personally confirmed to him the company’s interest in building high-end hotels either in Metro Manila or Central Visayas, specifically Bohol. He added that the group is on the hunt for a partner and is currently considering a joint venture with tycoon Lucio Tan.

The Shimao Group is controlled by China’s second richest man Xu Rongmao and is involved in real estate, properties and hotels. It has so far invested $10 billion in Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities in China. It is listed by Forbes magazine as the fifth largest firm in China.

Aside from the Shimao Group, Lim said a Middle Eastern company reportedly owned by the world’s eighth richest man Al-Waleed Bin Talal is also keen on investing in the tourism industry by building a hotel. Talal has investments in Four Seasons Hotel which operates 31 high-end hotels in over 30 countries.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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