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Saudi Arabia to boost defense, trade, tech ties with Manila

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MANILA: Saudi Arabia and the Philippines are exploring possible cooperation in key areas, including defense, trade and investment, following a commitment by the two countries to strengthen bilateral relations.
The move was announced by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila as the Philippines and Saudi Arabia concluded their 5th Joint Commission meeting in the capital on Friday.
Energy, education, tourism and technical training were other areas of cooperation being considered.
“Aside from trade and investment and labor and health services, other possible areas of cooperation discussed by both sides are in security, agriculture, energy, finance, education, cultural, tourism, youth and sports, technical training, and technology,” the DFA said in a statement.
“Among the bilateral agreements discussed were the deployment of workers of general category and household workers, and the memoranda of understanding in the fields of agriculture, sports, media, Islamic affairs, and development cooperation,” it said.
Enrique Manalo, Philippines foreign affairs undersecretary for policy, and Saudi Arabia’s Vice Labor Minister Abdullah Nasser Abouthnain led their delegations in the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Department of National Defense (DND) told Arab News that at present Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have no defense cooperation and exchanges, including visits, agreements or information sharing.
However, it said that the Philippine government is “open to exploring exchanges with Saudi Arabia, such as high-level visits or people exchanges.”
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif met President Rodrigo Duterte during an official visit to Manila early this year, with both countries reiterating their commitment to fighting terrorism.
In a meeting described by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque as “very warm and cordial,” Duterte and Prince Abdul Aziz discussed strengthening bilateral ties in law enforcement, peace, security, and promoting the welfare of Filipino migrant workers.
The prince also held separate meetings with National Security Adviser Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and interior and local government officer-in-charge Eduardo Ano.
A DND official said the prince and Lorenzana discussed the possibility of exchanges between the two countries.
“The training doesn’t have to be military. One possibility is an exchange of students because we have our National Defense College and they (Saudi) also have similar institution,” the official said.
He said that Saudi Arabia had a sophisticated military. “But in terms of ground units, the Philippines are more experienced than them because we’ve been fighting an insurgency for close to 50 years,” the official said.
Relations between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia stretch back almost five decades, with total trade last year worth about $1.25 billion.
Since 1980, the two countries have signed a number of agreements, mostly under the auspices of the Joint Commission meetings.
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