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Procter and Gamble Increases Investment in the Philippines

U.S. consumer giant Procter and Gamble says it wants to make the Philippines a major manufacturing hub for Asia, by investing $10 million there annually over the next three years.

The plan would make the Philippines a top exporter to Asia of the company's paper products, soaps, detergent and other items. Currently, Procter and Gamble has a big manufacturing plant outside Manila, employing some two thousand people.

In other news, Australia's trade deficit surged to $2 billion in March - the second highest monthly figure ever recorded. Businessmen and analysts say the strong Australian dollar is hurting the country's exports.

Also in Australia, profit for the country's fourth largest bank, Westpac, rose eight percent to $1 billion in the six months to March. Chief executive David Morgan says the bank's strategy of focusing on key markets has paid off. "There's no doubt that over the past six months or so, we've seen a marked increase in competitive intensity across all of our businesses. Within this environment, it's important we maintain our strategic discipline," he said.

In Malaysia, exports jumped 16 percent to $12 billion - a new record monthly high. Malaysia gained largely from higher oil prices as it sold more crude oil, refined oil products and natural gas.

In Burma, the government says it will hold a special jade and gems auction in Rangoon next month to curb smuggling of precious stones, and to earn much-needed foreign currency. Gem and jade sales are one of the major dollar-earners for the isolated, military-ruled state, which normally holds auctions twice a year. The last auction was held in April.