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Philippine gov’t reports big progress in talks with Japan

AFP with | 30 October 2004

Gov’t big progress in free trade talks with Japan

Agence France-Presse

THE Philippines on Friday reported significant progress in talks to sign a free-trade pact by the end of the year with Japan, its number-two export market, after a fifth round of negotiations in Manila.

The hosts suggested there was significant movement on discussions on trade in goods except for sensitive agricultural products, while suggesting that certain issues on trade in services might take more time to resolve.

Chief Philippine negotiator Trade and Industry Undersecretary Thomas Aquino said "significant progress was made at the conclusion of the fifth negotiation talks."

From fine-tuning of principles in the third round and a definition of interests and sensitivities in the fourth round, the fifth session "moves the negotiations to a more advanced stage that hopefully will pave the way for the closing of the deal," he added.

He gave no details on the specific items put on the table by either side, saying only that the government continued "to aim at completion this year."

More talks are planned in Manila in November.

The Japanese panel, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Ichiro Fujisaki, did not speak to the press after the five-day session. But Aquino told a news conference he got the impression Tokyo was also keen to sign a free-trade deal within the year.

The Philippines, an agriculture-exporting nation, is seeking more access for its goods, particularly tropical farm products, to the world’s second-largest economy and also wants its big labor force to gain entry into the health care market for Japan’s graying population.

A Philippine government study showed an "economic partnership agreement" with Japan would boost the Philippine gross domestic product growth by between 1.73 and 3.03 percentage points.

Japan on the other hand wishes to clear hurdles to investment in the Philippines.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, speaking to reporters on Monday, acknowledged that Japan’s nurses association was worried that Filipino nurses would take over their jobs.

"We are not interested in that," she said. "What we see as a big possibility are our care-givers and our IT [information technology] workers."

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Segfredo Serrano said the two panels had a "very frank exchange of views" on the Japan’s relatively closed market for farm products, and were in a "delicate" stage of the talks on this segment of the market.

Japan is the Philippines’ second-largest export market after the United States, with two-way trade totaling 13.41 billion dollars in 2003.

Philippine exports, consisting primarily of electronic products, automotive parts and components, and bananas, amounted to 5.77 billion dollars last year.

Japanese imports from the Philippines amounted to 7.64 billion dollars, comprising mainly electronic products and automotive parts and components. With