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Efta states asked to make PH their gateway to Asean

By: - Reporter / @amyremoINQ
/ 11:07 PM July 26, 2015

THE PHILIPPINES is willing to “provide more openings” in the local services sector for the four-member states of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) under a proposed free trade agreement (FTA), if the bloc makes the country its hub in or main gateway to the Asean.

This was one of the propositions pitched by the Philippine delegation during the second round of FTA negotiations held earlier this month with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

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“We are willing to provide some openings in our services sector particularly those in need of financial investments or technology transfer from the four Efta states, as long as the Philippines will serve as their hub to penetrate the Asean region,” Trade Assistant Secretary Ceferino Rodolfo said in an interview Friday.

He said the Philippine delegation, during the negotiation, had sought greater market access for agricultural products, professional workers and skilled laborers. Greater protection was also sought for Filipino workers in the Efta states.

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In turn, Efta similarly sought greater market access for their agricultural products as well as tariff reductions in industrial goods.

According to Rodolfo, the concessions being sought by both parties seemed complementary but local negotiators were being cautious to ensure that the allowances to be made would not put local industries at a disadvantage.

“They also have sensitivities in their agriculture sector. If you look at their existing FTAs, they never give out zero duties, and only 40 percent of their agricultural goods are covered by their FTAs,” Rodolfo said. “For certain industrial goods, zero duties are being sought.”

He added that there were no major concerns raised yet during the previous talks, but the focus was on the areas of convergence, on what the parties are seeking and are willing to give.

The third round of negotiations will be held in September this year in Manila, while the fourth will be held in November in Europe, he said.

The first round of negotiations took place in the Philippines in March 2015. Prior to the formal free trade talks, a joint declaration on cooperation between Efta and the Philippines was signed in June 2014 in Iceland while the scoping exercise was concluded in November 2014.

The move to forge an FTA formed part of the Philippines’ strategy to further expand its export markets and boost bilateral trade and investment with Efta member states.

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According to Efta, the total commodity trade between its member states and the Philippines has grown by 4 percent from 2010 to 2014. Total trade in 2014 amounted to $636 million, which reflected a marginal increase from the $633 million recorded in 2013.

The flow of foreign direct investments to the Philippines from the Efta States nearly tripled in the last 10 years.

Trade Undersecretary Adrian S. Cristobal Jr. earlier said the Philippine agriculture and manufacturing sectors are expected to benefit from the proposed FTA. While its member-states are relatively small, their economies can provide rich, potential opportunities for trade and investments in terms of “niche products,” he added.

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