Business World - 21 October 2019
Banana tariffs a sticking point in South Korea free trade deal
By Jenina P. Ibañez
FREE TRADE Agreement (FTA) negotiations with South Korea are currently stalled because Seoul has not budged on key items sought by the Philippine side, particularly on opening up the market for bananas, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told reporters Thursday.
“Basically, the items that we want and the kind of liberalization needed — hindi pa namin nakikita (we’re not seeing it yet),” he said.
Mr. Lopez said that the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) agenda is to improve banana exports to South Korea, and for an accelerated reduction of tariffs. To be decided are the timetable and size of tariff reduction.
“We thought we could get (the tariff reduction) earlier or it would somehow be given earlier,” he said. “Bottom line: we’re not yet happy.”
The DTI is hoping to expand the Philippines’ banana, pineapple, and mango exports, on which South Korea imposes tariffs of up to 30%.
The DTI said in June that South Korea is seeking lower tariffs on its auto and parts products, but DTI Assistant Secretary for Industry Development and Trade Policy Allan B. Gepty said then that Philippine industries must also be protected.
Mr. Lopez said that DTI was confident at the beginning of negotiations as the two countries are only considering a small set of products.
“But apparently, it’s not easy,” he said.
DTI targets to finalize negotiations by November, in time for the South Korea-ASEAN Commemorative Summit. But Mr. Lopez said that a failure to complete an agreement by this deadline will not mean that the FTA will be cancelled.