Manila Bulletin | 18 January 2022
Biden admin seen ‘no appetite’ for bilateral FTA
by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
The Biden administration is perceived not interested in forging bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with the Philippines, which was pushed during the Trump administration, but the United States has vowed that bilateral economic relations remained strong even as it offered assistance for additional investments especially in clean energy, 5G Internet, and government digitalization.
Hank Hendrickson, executive director of the Philippine-US Society, said at the virtual Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Global Biz featuring the USA, that
Hendrickson noted that the US during the Trump administration had warmed up to the idea of bilateral FTA with the Philippines, but unfortunately the goal was not achieved. Instead, both countries’ economic relation was governed by the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
Fast forward to 2022, Hendrickson does not believe the Biden administration is keen on pursuing the unfinished FTA plan that was initiated in 2016 during Trumps visit to Manila.
“I don’t sense an appetite in the administration in Washington for new initiatives toward bilateral or even regional trade policy negotiations. But the two governments will remain active on trade investment promotion and facilitation,” he said.
Under the trade and investment promotion and facilitation program are various other efforts being carried out by both parties like assistance available under the International Development Finance Corporation and the efforts at the embassy level and use of efforts of USAID and of course the State Department, among others.
The Philippine side is specifically targeting American businesses investment, in addition to expanding traditional sectors can offer cutting edge and niche opportunities to technologies and improve processes.
“While there’s not an expectation for broader trade policies, talks to governments will engage on issues specific concerns,” said Hendrickson citing programs like the extension of the US Generalized System of Preferences. He noted that GSP extension negotiation is one thing to watch closely during the review period.
“We would like to see how far in concrete terms the US can translate his vision on strengthening supply chains into expanded partnership with Philippine suppliers,” he said.
Despite the lack of interest for bilateral FTA, US Charge D’Affaires to the Philippines Heather Variava said the United States has offered to the Philippines assistance for additional investments especially in clean energy, 5G Internet, and government digitalization.
“We know the Philippines is looking for additional investment across the board, but especially in 5g Internet, clean energy health, digitizing government and now in technology areas. Please do reach out to our embassy here and let’s see how we can assist,” said Variava at the same virtual PEZA event.
Variava has emphasized that US Philippine alliance remained strong, particularly with the bilateral Strategic Dialogue, which was convened in November last year. Under the Strategic Dialogue, both parties committed to further deepening and expanding relationship to address common challenges on the pandemic and regional issues.
“We agreed that a key component of this relationship, the strategic relationship relies on consultations with the private sector and looking at bilateral platforms. We can engage to foster closer economic engagement,” she said.
The Dialogue covers a wide range of common bilateral interests, including climate action, clean energy transition, digital and cyber cooperation and quality infrastructure development.
“As we approach all these issues, we do so with a view of providing assistance to mitigate the efforts of the COVID 19 pandemic and support recovery efforts in the Philippines and in the region. Our recovery initiatives include a focus on sustainable infrastructure, our goal is to work with countries in the region, especially the Philippines to deliver the high quality high standards infrastructure that everyone deserves,” she said.
Meanwhile, PEZA Director General Charito B. Plaza reported there are 420 American company locators at various economic zones with combined investments of P400.66 billion. These American firms are also employing 330,906 Filipinos.
Major American firms registered with PEZA include JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., American Power Conversion Corp., C and U Philippines Inc., Teletech Customer Care Management, On Semiconductor Philippines. Inc., Alorica Teleservices Inc., Cypress Manufacturing Ltd., Moog Controls Corp., and Google Services Philippines Inc.