AmCham wants Duterte, Trump to jump-start FTA

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Business Mirror, Philippines

AmCham wants Duterte, Trump to jump-start FTA

By Catherine Pillas

31 August 2017

American businessmen are asking Manila and Washington to include a discussion on a “21st century free-trade agreement” (FTA) in the anticipated meeting between US President Donald J. Trump and President Duterte in Manila in November.

Also, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) officials want Duterte to clarify Trump’s “America First” policy.

“One of the things that AmCham is hoping for is, since the US is out of the Transpacific Partnership [TPP], that a possible FTA could be discussed. Chances are slim [that it will be an immediate concern], as the US Trade Representative Office [USTR] have a lot on their plate, but we’re hoping we could plant the seed for it, hopefully during the Trump administration,” AmCham Executive Director David Hincheliffe told the BusinessMirror.

AmCham Senior Adviser John D. Forbes said Manila should be ready to negotiate high-level commitments in trade in goods and services because Washington would not settle for anything less than a “21st century trade deal”. Forbes said as conceptualized by the Obama leadership, this means a trade agreement that incorporates modern, pressing issues brought about by a globalizing world, such as cross-border communications, intellectual property rights and e-commerce.

“We don’t see any reason the US will do a traditional FTA, the world has changed,” Forbes noted.

The government, through the Department of Trade and Industry, has been open to the idea of expanding the two countries’ existing Trade and Investment Framework Agreement into a full-scale FTA.

This appears to be also the only route to gain an expansive preferential access to the US market, as the Western state has already pulled out of the TPP.

Part of the Trump administration’s trade policy is negotiating trade deals on a bilateral basis, contrasting with former President Barack Obama’s route of regional or plurilateral FTAs.

“The Philippines is still interested in further enhancing market access to the US; that has always been a key objective, whether it was within the context of generalized system of preferences, or the TPP,” Trade Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said in a previous interview.

Another matter significant to American businesses is the trumpeted “America First” policy since Trump assumed the US presidency.

Even as the administration had reportedly shelved the border-adjustment tax—aiming to impose a 20-percent levy on imports from certain countries—the principle of the motto is still stirring unease among American businesses.

“A lot of our members are in business-process outsourcing, and when there was talk of this tax, there was definitely concern. That has now died down. But now some of the large, multinational manufacturing corporations want to be able to clear this up,” Hincheliffe added.

In addition to getting a clearer perspective on the policy implications, the “America First” motto may be sending a negative impression on trading partners.

“With America First, it sounds like when it comes to negotiations, anyone you’re negotiating with will at least come in at No. 2. You don’t want to come in in a discussion as a loser and be at second place. That America First could be explained and the image refined,” the AmCham executive director pointed out.

According to the USTR’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda, “every action taken with regard to trade will be designed to increase economic growth, promote job creation in the US, promote reciprocity with trading partners, strengthen the manufacturing base, and expand agricultural and service industry exports”.

source: Business Mirror