, MAY 22, 2007 (BULLETIN) By DAVID CAGAHASTIAN - Businessmen await Senate’s ratification of JPEPA GMA leaves for Tokyo this afternoon.

President Arroyo will leave for Japan today, Tuesday, for an official visit to reaffirm close diplomatic ties with the Japanese government and renew commitments for Japanese investments to the Philippines ahead of the ratification of a landmark free trade agreement between the two countries.

Mrs. Arroyo is scheduled to leave the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 2:40 p.m. today for Tokyo, Japan, to start her four-day official visit which will involve meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, members of the Japanese Diet, and Japanese businessmen.

She is expected to arrive at the Narita Airport in Tokyo at around 8 p.m. (Tokyo time).

The government expects to sign more agreements for Japanese investments when the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) is ratified by the Senate, though commitments for Japanese investments are expected to be renewed during Mrs. Arroyo’s official visit to Japan.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said Mrs. Arroyo is not expected to sign investment agreements with Japanese companies as the Japanese businessmen who have committed to invest in the Philippines are waiting for the Senate’s ratification of the JPEPA before pushing through with their plans.

"Many of the people we’ve been talking to are merely waiting for the ratification of the comprehensive economic agreement because they want to make sure that they can see the benefits in this agreement," Favila said in an interview in Malacañang.

"Until it is signed, we just have to be patient and wait before they actually come in," he said.

Favila said as soon as the JPEPA is ratified by the Senate, more than 200 Japanese businessmen would start coming into the country with their investments.

The JPEPA, which was signed last year, sets a timetable of 10 years to eliminate or reduce tariffs on agricultural and industrial products traded between Japan and the Philippines.

Favila said the Senate is expected to ratify the JPEPA even if its composition after the winning senators in the May 14, 2007 elections are proclaimed would end up being dominated by the political opposition.

"I think the members of the Senate, whether administration or opposition, would always look at the bigger picture and see what is good for the Philippine economy," he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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