Inquirer | 2 May 2016
PH, EU to commence free-trade negotiations
FRESH from sealing a preferential deal with four European states last week, the Philippine government is now gearing for its first round of negotiations with the 28-member European Union for a similar free trade agreement that can help the country establish a strong foothold in one of its biggest markets to date.
Trade Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said in an interview Friday the first round of talks between the Philippines and the EU would be held in Brussels from May 23 to 27 this year.
“We are eyeing to have an FTA with the EU as we want to secure more permanently the preferential duties for our products when we graduate from the generalized system of preferences (EU GSP+). For instance, some of our agricultural products were already being exported to Europe. But what we wanted to do is to be able to expand and not just penetrate the European markets,” Rodolfo said.
He said the country also wanted to attract more investments from Europe.
He said the upcoming meeting would also provide an avenue for the Philippines and the EU to explain their respective domestic rules and limitations, look at modalities and agree on proposed timelines. The first round would serve as an orientation of sorts for the negotiating parties, he said.
The Philippines currently enjoys a preferential trade treatment for over 6,200 product lines, which can be exported to the EU at zero tariffs under the GSP+ program. The country’s inclusion in this scheme, however, is time bound at 10 years, with a possibility that the Philippines would “graduate” early from this program, depending on how fast the economy would grow over the next decade.
The target, therefore, was to secure a more permanent and long-term relationship with the 28-member bloc through an FTA. Having a bilateral agreement with the EU was deemed highly significant for the Philippines as it would help the country corner a far more significant share of the foreign direct investments EU companies are pouring into the region.
If completed and signed, the PH-EU FTA would be the third bilateral agreement to be secured by the Philippine government after the PH-European Free Trade Association FTA and the Philippine Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (Pjepa).
The EU is currently ranked as the Philippines’ fourth largest trading partner, third largest import source and fourth largest export market. Major exports of the Philippines under the EU GSP scheme include crude coconut oil, canned tuna, spectacle lenses, etc.