MANILA -- Economic managers are working towards relaxing restrictions on foreign contractors in line with the government’s plan to fast-track the implementation of infrastructure and development projects deemed vital to sustaining economic growth.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the country is in the process of reducing restrictions in the foreign investment negative list (FINL) in a bid to be “more comparable” with its neighboring countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“We are liberalizing the negative list to take out this prohibition on international contractors participating in projects,” he said Thursday in an energy and infrastructure finance forum hosted by Euromoney.

Pernia, also National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General, noted the 60-40 percent equity ruling is “still very restrictive.”

The country’s FINL lays out investment areas that are closed to foreign investments, and areas where foreign ownership is limited to a maximum of 40 percent of equity capital.

The economic team is currently reviewing such list covering industries that are open to non-Filipino investors.

Pernia further said the current limitations on foreign contractors can be lifted through the approval of the NEDA Board, while some may need legislation. President Rodrigo Duterte chairs the NEDA Board.

He noted that once such restrictions are removed, foreign contractors can participate in the country’s big ticket projects, particularly the Clark International Airport and the Bohol International Airport.

“So there are a lot of opportunities for private sector participation because government does not have construction contractors. The government will have to depend on the private sector for contractors in the construction phase of the project,” Pernia said.

As part of Duterte administration's “Build! Build! Build! program, the NEDA Board has approved for adoption 75 flagship infrastructure projects, of which 53 projects cost PHP1.6 trillion.

“Twenty one (projects) have been so far approved by NEDA Board and they are now ready for implementation. In fact, they are now in various stages of preparations for implementation,” he added.

Pernia said 5,600 minor infrastructure projects have been also identified for the towns and cities in the provinces.

Apart from the construction industry, the NEDA chief further said they are looking to ease foreign restrictions on other sectors, such as retail, trade and services like foreign professors. (PNA)