Business World - 9 January 2024
Philippines pressing for expedited resolution to Japan FTA talks
By Justine Irish D. Tabile
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it has been pushing for a prompt conclusion to renegotiating the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan, known as the Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJEPA).
Asked for the DTI’s preferred timeline, Trade Undersecretary Allan B. Gepty said, “There are still many issues and elements that we intend to cover. So, basically, it will really depend on the levels of admission of both Japan and the Philippines.”
Mr. Gepty said that the general review of PJEPA is currently ongoing, and that the DTI is pushing Japan to expedite the review.
“Right now, we are really advocating and pushing Japan to hasten the general review so that the pending issues and other interests that we would like to be covered are concluded,” he said in a recent briefing.
The Philippines, he said, still has the same concerns, such as improving market access for Philippine bananas and other tropical fruit.
For its part, Japan is seeking better market access for its industrial goods, such as automotive products and parts.
“More than that, there are other areas where Japan is interested in, for example e-commerce. If you take into account the FTAs of developed countries like Japan, the US, and the European Union, they are very particular on digital trade rules, so we expect the same in this bilateral FTA,” Mr. Gepty said.
He said that both Japan and the Philippines are lobbying to improve market access for certain product lines by at least lowering the tariffs and gradually slashing them to zero.
“But this will depend on the outcome of the negotiations. Sometimes the landing zone is either you will have a timeline, you will have a reduction or sometimes it will depend on the sensitivity of the products that the tariff will end up positive but very minimal,” he added.
Mr. Gepty said the conclusion of the FTA with South Korea may serve to motivate Japan into concluding a similar deal soon.
“They have the same interests, which is automotive products, so we are hoping that this could serve as a wake-up call to Japan to hasten the negotiations. If you will recall, our interest (in South Korea) is also market access for our agriculture products,” he said.
Japan is considered a prime export destination of Philippine bananas and continues to be a top choice for producers because it can offer good prices, said Mr. Gepty.
Under PJEPA, bananas from the Philippines are charged a seasonal tariff of 18% between Oct. 1 and March 31 and 8% from April 1 to Sept. 30.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Philippine agricultural exports to Japan amounted to $679 million in the third quarter.