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Prospects dim for free-trade deal with EU

/ 04:09 AM February 10, 2020

A free-trade deal between the Philippines and the European Union will not likely be concluded soon as conditions in the country are not right enough to hold another round of negotiations.

Representatives from the Philippines and the EU met in Brussels last month to discuss bilateral relations, wherein the topic of the free-trade agreement (FTA) was brought up, Germany’s envoy to the Philippines said.

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“It’s probably not something to be concluded in the short term,” Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel said in a briefing hosted last week by the German-Philippine business chamber.

February would mark three years since the last round of negotiations between the EU and the Philippines, an unusual silence made even more complicated by President Duterte’s attitude toward the economic bloc.

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The European Union and the Philippines has so far met only twice for formal negotiations, with the first round held in May 2016 and the second in February 2017.

Reiffenstuel said the meeting in Brussels did not discuss any possible third round soon.

“We are aware that [the FTA] is an issue that needs to be continued,” she told reporters on the sideline of the briefing.

“We will discuss things when the environment, the conditions are right. But this is where we stop now. It hasn’t been put [back] on the table for negotiations yet,” she added.

FTA negotiations in general take a long time and this may not necessarily just be because of the Philippines, she clarified. But in the same breath, she noted that there was a “huge complexity of conditions” that keep the environment from being ripe for an FTA.

She said the EU was considering various issues, from the economic reforms that the Philippines is pushing for, to the human rights situation in the country, an issue “that we, in Europe, follow very closely.”

With the EU Commission now led by Germany, she said the bloc planned to prioritize economic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), not so much as a group, but as individual Asean member-states.

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The Philippines, she said, had good growth figures. But other Southeast Asian countries were doing well too and so far, Vietnam was the talk of the town.

“You have a very strong competitor. Everybody is talking about Vietnam and their approach and how they are opening up to the world’s foreign investment. So Vietnam is very strong,” she said. INQ

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