PH needs to pursue more free trade deals
CEBU CITY, Philippines—The Philippines should aggressively pursue increased participation in bilateral and regional free trade agreements as this was deemed crucial in ensuring the country’s position as a globally competitive, highly lucrative investment destination.
“We cannot be at standstill because the whole region is also embarking in aggressively pursuing free trade agreements (FTAs) and regional trade agreements (RTAs). If we need to provide the competitive cover to our export products and services, we have to also make sure that we are diligently pursuing opportunities for mutually beneficial FTAs,” Trade Assistant Secretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings here.
“We need to be able to really push forward our (proposed) FTAs with the European Union and the European Free Trade Association, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and possibly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement,” Rodolfo added.
RCEP refers to a separate free trade agreement being negotiated between the Asean and its six trading partners—Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India. The TPP, deemed as the Philippines’ only chance to have bilateral partnership with the United States, is a trade agreement among 12 nations aimed at lowering trade barriers among participating countries and strengthening patent protection, among others.
Rodolfo, however, was quick to note that while the Philippines had become aggressive with its bids to strike preferential trade agreements with other nations, the country remained “selective” as it wanted to forge deals with “those that will give maximum benefits to our products and services.”
According to Rodolfo, the Philippines and the 28-member European Union (EU) remained on the scoping stage, a preliminary exercise prior to actual negotiations for an FTA.
The Philippines and the four-member states of the European Free Trade Association will be holding its third round of negotiations sometime this month in Manila, while the fourth round will be held in November in Europe.
Efta, which is composed of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, was deemed a strategic partner as a possible FTA with it will enable the Philippines to significantly benefit from increased trade and investments in agriculture. The four European economies are also home to some of the largest multinational companies in the world, and could thus be major sources of investments for the Philippine manufacturing and services sectors.
The Philippines is also reportedly eyeing bilateral FTAs with Chile and Canada, while a trade agreement with Hong Kong is being considered via the Asean.
“We will be talking to Chile again. As for Canada, we have already completed explanatory discussions and the results have been favorable. Canada is the fourth biggest TPP market,” Rodolfo added.
The Philippines has so far signed seven free trade agreements, only one of which was bilateral, while the six others are through the Asean. These are the Asean FTA; Asean-China FTA; Asean-Korea FTA; Asean-Australia-New Zealand FTA; Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement; Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJEPA), and the Asean-India FTA.
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