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New Zealand prods Asean to ink trade pact

Business Mirror, Manila

New Zealand prods Asean to ink trade pact

By Estrella Torres / Reporter

11 February 2009

The New Zealand government has called on member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to sign the free-trade agreement (FTA)
with them and Australia to prepare the East Asian region for the worse impact of the global financial crunch.

New Zealand Ambassador to Manila Andrew Matheson said the trade agreement provides for the opening up of a huge market in the East Asia region through some measures that include removal of trade barriers and improvement of business mobility.

Another trade agreement has, meanwhile, been the target of trade activists and labor groups who have urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Delegation of the European Commission in Manila to disclose the contents of the proposed Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) being negotiated by both.

“If indeed the PCA will be for the mutual benefit of both the EU [European Union] and the Philippines, then why are the negotiations shrouded in secrecy?” said Alice Raymundo of the EU-Asean FTA Campaign Network. She said the group’s request for a draft copy of the PCA has been ignored both by the DFA and the EC Delegation in Manila.

Raymundo recalled the controversy over the just-ratified Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), where the government also had been niggardly on the details while it was under negotiation.

Matheson, speaking on the occasion of the New Zealand trade fair at the Edsa Shangri-La Mall in Mandaluyong City that showcased the products and services of his country, added that the FTA for New Zealand-Australia and Asean-concluded late last year-is expected to be signed later this month in Thailand during the 14th Asean Summit.

“As countries face the global financial crisis, one of the most important things to do is to avoid resorting to protectionism,” he said. “The agreement seeks to reduce tariffs across all sectors, cut down the cost of existing trade and facilitate trade and investments.”

New Zealand companies are eager to explore the fishery industry in the Philippines, particularly the importation of salmon and tuna products, he said.

On the pact with the EU, the EU- Asean FTA Campaign Network, composed of civil-society groups that include Task Force Food Sovereignty, Partido Manggagawa and the Rural Women Congress, also recalled the lopsided negotiations for the Jpepa where the issue of toxic waste from Japan has caused wide opposition.

“Unfortunately, the trade department has a poor track record when it comes to securing Philippine interests in these bilateral negotiations,” she said.

The EU and the Philippines concluded the first round of negotiations for the PCA on Tuesday with initial discussions on common areas of cooperation that include legal migration, good governance, renewable energy, investment promotion, and protection of intellectual property rights.

The political aspect of the PCA includes promotion of the EU core values such as human rights, rule of law, and democratization. Under the PCA, the EU seeks the Philippine ratification of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court that tries war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity.

James Moran, director for Asia of the European Commission’s External Relations Department, said the PCA which qualifies the Philippines to the comprehensive EU-Asean Free Trade Agreement seeks to encourage recovery from the effects of the global financial crisis.

Foreign undersecretary for international economic relations Edsel Custodio, who chairs the Philippine negotiating panel to the PCA, said the Philippines is threading cautiously on the political commitments on human rights, saying, “EU standards are higher than ours....We want to have flexibility and move at our pace.”

The second round of negotiations will start in July. Both parties expressed hopes to finish negotiations by next year.