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Philippine President Joseph Estrada reiterated Thursday his belief that the opportunity is ripe for direct foreign investment in his country now that his national reform program is well under way.

Estrada is in Japan on a five-day trip to attract Japanese investment under enhanced bilateral ties with Manila. This is his first visit here since he took office in June 1998.

“Japan is a major investor, trading partner and provider of assistance to the Philippines,” he told reporters at a Tokyo hotel. “Regionally, its commitment of $82 billion in assistance for five countries affected by financial crises underscores its vital importance in reviving the stalled Asian economies.”

Earlier in the day, Estrada attended a two-day international conference on the future of Asia, during which he delved into the financial turmoil that has gripped the region and policy alternatives for bringing recovery and stabilization to Asian currency markets.

“The response from Japanese businessmen (to my speech) was really good … I will continue the policy of my predecessors — liberalization, deregulation and privatization,” he said.

Estrada stressed that the Philippines is now a “safe place” for foreign investors, saying the country’s crime rate is at an all-time low and that kidnapping on the street has disappeared.

Estrada is scheduled to hold top-level talks with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi today in an effort to boost economic ties. He is also set to meet with Japanese business leaders and officials of economic aid institutions during his stay, Philippine Embassy officials said.

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