Gov’t starts efforts to frame trade pact
By Eliza J. Diaz
6 March 2012
The Trade department has started efforts to frame a trade pact between the European Union and the Philippines, a Cabinet official yesterday said.
This comes as Manila firms up discussions with Transpacific Partnership (TPP) members on the Philippines’ eventual entry into the United States-led regional trade deal.
"We already sent a letter indicating our readiness to begin the scoping exercises with the EU," Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo told reporters on the sidelines of the annual Philippine Economic Briefing.
The formal invitation was delivered shortly after trade officials met last month with EU Ambassador to the Philippines Guy Ledoux.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ledoux confirmed yesterday in an e-mail to BusinessWorld that the letter was received by the European Commission Directorate-General for Trade Mauro Petriccione.
"[Mr. Petriccione has] indicated that the EU welcomes this initiative and, together with the Philippine government, will discuss all issues leading to the scoping [exercise] whenever they are ready," the foreign official said.
"My understanding is that these scoping exercises should begin no later than the first quarter of this year," he added.
Scoping exercises, as a prelude to formal trade negotiations, are conducted to determine which industry sectors, regulatory policies, economic and business laws, and government procedures can and will be covered by the terms of the free trade agreement (FTA).
"We are talking about a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. We are not just talking about tariffs, but also investments, competition laws, public procurement, customs procedures [to name a few]," Mr. Ledoux said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Nationwide consultations on the EU-Philippines FTA were held last year with the private sector to help the Trade department identify potentially sensitive issues for the upcoming deal.
"We have been deliberate with our consultation process because we don’t want a repeat of what happened with JPEPA (Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement) where consultations did not happen before the negotiations," Mr Domingo said.
Through the consultations, the Trade secretary assured that whatever the trade-offs agreed upon during the scoping exercises and formal negotiations, they would yield a "significant net benefit" to all interested parties.
Mr. Ledoux said in a speech last month that the bloc was willing "to be flexible in how sensitive issues may be eventually implemented" in future trade pacts.
"We are aware that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Countries, with which the EU is negotiating FTAs, may differ in their economic profile and characteristics, with sensitive economic or political issues often owed to their political or institutional legacies. [...] What it does not mean is that [these sensitive issues] can be excluded," Mr. Ledoux added.
In a related development, Mr. Domingo announced that the nine TPP economies currently negotiating the deal have committed to meet periodically with the Philippines for updates on the regional trade agreement.
"The TPP ambassadors suggested that we have an informal group to help us along with the deal," the trade chief said.
The first meeting of the group with Mr. Domingo, organized by the Chilean ambassador, was held yesterday and was attended by other officials from the United States and Brunei, the Cabinet official added.