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RP-Japan trade talks hit snag

ABS-CBN, Manila, 7 September 2005

RP-Japan trade talks hit snag

By NIEL V. MUGAS, The Manila Times Reporter

Negotiations regarding the Philippine-Japan trade accord may be delayed until 2006, four months behind the government’s schedule, according to Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Edsel Custodio, who sits as a negotiator, because of the continued delay in the proceedings.

In July Trade Secretary Peter Favila expected negotiations of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) to be concluded in August, with the signing of the trade deal by September.

In November 2004 President Arroyo and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi already agreed in principle to push through with the JPEPA, stressing the importance of opening markets for agriculture, electronics and the automotive sector.

Custodio said that they are now "lying low" in the talks as Tokyo and Manila have yet to reach an agreement on several contentions issues surrounding the automotive and services sector and issues pertaining to the movement of natural persons.

"It is also impossible to conclude the negotiations this year especially with all the delays," Custodio said, adding that the last meeting for JPEPA was held two weeks ago and the next meeting has yet to be scheduled.

Custodio also said that the expected lengthy proceedings in the ratification of the trade deal before Congress also makes it impossible for JPEPA to be concluded and signed this year.

Under the law, any bilateral trade deal must be ratified by Congress to ensure that its provision will not put the Philippines and its local industries at a disadvantage.

The trade accord aims to promote better market access between both countries, especially with a proposal to remove tariffs by 2010, with an option to begin tariff reduction by 2006.

Japan is currently the Philippines’ biggest trading partner, cornering more than 20 percent of the country’s annual exports, surpassing the United States.

The Japanese government also provides the biggest amount of overseas development assistance funds for the Philippine’s priority infrastructure projects including the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

Once signed, the JPEPA will be the Philippines’s first bilateral trade accord. The Philippines is signatory to the free-trade agreement between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Manila is also eyeing a free-trade agreement with the United States.

 source: ABS-CBN