finland:  gma  starts  europe,  pacific  trip

President Arroyo walks past the honor guards before boarding her plane at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Centennnial Terminal yesterday for her trip to Finland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Cuba and Hawaii. Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

HELSINKI, FINLAND, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo arrived here yesterday to kick off a five-nation trip across Europe and the Pacific to promote the Philippines’ interests in energy security, environment and the economy.

Mrs. Arroyo, the first Philippine president to visit northern Europe, will speak for Asian countries in the two-day 6th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM6) that starts today as the Philippines chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"In my capacity as the chair of ASEAN, I will be representing the economic and cultural interests of our region in building closer alliances with Europe and the European Union during my visit to Europe. And I will do the same as I promote peace and human rights issues with the 125 member nations of the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Cuba," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement before departing from Manila yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo, accompanied by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and a delegation of Cabinet officials, business leaders and lawmakers, arrived at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport at 2 p.m. and proceeded to the Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel.

She will also be the keynote speaker on energy security in the ASEM6 to be held at Helsinki Fair Centre.

Mrs. Arroyo left yesterday for a nine-day working visit to Finland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Cuba and Hawaii.

Ambassador to Sweden Victoria Bataclan, who also represents Manila in Finland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark and Lithuania, said Mrs. Arroyo is the first Philippine president to visit northern Europe.

Established in March 1996 in Bangkok, ASEM is a 38-nation body plus the European Commission that provides for an informal venue of dialogue and cooperation among members.

At 4 p.m. Mrs. Arroyo and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) at Ambassador II Scandic Continental Hotel.

This was followed by a bilateral meeting between them which lasted for about half an hour.

At 6:15 p.m., Mrs. Arroyo held another bilateral meeting with Finnish President Tarja Halonen at her official residence, known as the Mantyniemi, in Helsinki. This was followed by dinner reception hosted by Halonen for all heads of state attending the summit.

At ASEM6, Mrs. Arroyo is expected to inform summit leaders of the success of the ASEM Ocean initiative, pushed by the Philippines and supported by Indonesia and Portugal, which calls for marine governance, marine research and development to help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.

Bataclan said the government’s commitment to sustainable development is underpinned by the imperatives to keeping the country’s islands and their surrounding seas not only safe and habitable, but also providers of the needs of the present and future generations.

Mrs. Arroyo is also expected to discuss employment and migration and push for the protection of the rights of migrant workers and their families.

She will also encourage ASEM leaders to cooperate in areas of education and training, mutual recognition of skills, reintegration schemes and social security benefits.

As Asean chair, she is expected to take the lead on the Asian side to exchange views on political developments in the region, including tensions in the Korean peninsula, terrorism and transnational crimes.

She is scheduled to join the small Filipino community in Finland for a Mass at St. Henry’s Cathedral at 8 a.m. before attending the start of the ASEM6.

Mrs. Arroyo is also scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the sidelines of the ASEM summit at 11 a.m. today.

Tomorrow, she is scheduled to hold separate meetings with Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, president and chief executive officer of Nokia, one of the world’s largest mobile phone makers, and Ole Johanson, president and chief executive officer of Wartsila, one of largest Finnish energy firms at Radisson Hotel starting at 9 a.m.

Mrs. Arroyo will leave on Tuesday for Brussels to meet separately with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to primarily discuss development cooperation.

Mrs. Arroyo is confident of attracting investments, saying the Philippines’ image before the international community and investors is better now with the improvement in the country’s economic and political environment.

"Our economy is strong, our politics are stable and our democracy as vibrant as ever. And the peace process in Mindanao is close to a final breakthrough," she said in her pre-departure statement in Manila.

"It is important for our people to appreciate the fact that the fate of our nation is increasingly tied to our role in the world: we need foreign markets for our goods and services, close cooperation with foreign governments on matters of security to fight terrorism and greater advances with all nations to build a stronger multilateral global order."

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippines was beginning to reap benefits of closely engaging with other countries as a result of the course she set for the country’s foreign policy.

"Our credit ratings are up, foreign investments are up, job creation is up and the peso is strong. And our allies around the world - in Europe, the Middle East, North America and here in Asia with Japan and Malaysia - are rallying to bring peace to the Muslim South," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo’s final stop will be in Hawaii, where she will celebrate over 100 years of Philippine migration to the United States that began in 1906. — With Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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