Manila Bulletin | September 29, 2010
RP Notifies US of Intention to Join TPPA
By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has formally informed the United States Trade Representative (USTR) of its intention to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), an aggressive free trade deal among a few countries that seeks not only to open up trade but also the country’s highly protected services sector.
Trade and Industry undersecretary for international trade Adrian S. Cristobal said he informed Assistant USTR for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Barbara Weisel during a meeting on Tuesday in Manila of the Philippine government’s intention to join the TPPA.
The meeting of both Cristobal and Weisel was a follow up to the US trip of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to discuss expanding RP-US trade and investment relations.
Cristobal has impressed upon Weisel the country’s strategic interest in being part of the TPPA. He noted that the country was bent on pursuing trade agreements where its major trading partners are.
The TPPA partners account for around $21 billion in total trade for the Philippines and around $10-billion worth of its exports.
The TPPA is an FTA among Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei, with the objective of shaping a highstandard, broad-based regional pact.
The membership of the U.S. in this new regional trade bloc is expected to raise the group’s goal to attain a higher level of standards among members on labor, environment and services sectors apart from the trade aspect.
The Philippines has made it a policy to be a part in a trade deal where its major trading partners are also members. The TPPA would be the first trans-Pacific FTA. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is trans-Pacific in nature also, but it is non-binding.
Original partners in the TPPA are Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. In 2008, the US and other countries including Australia, Peru and Vietnam have indicated their interests to join the group. “However, the Philippines will need to conduct serious studies, engage in extensive consultations with government, particularly Congress, the private sector and civil society, and enhance competitiveness before we can formally engage in the TPPA process,” Cristobal said.
For instance, the Philippines has yet to liberalize its services sector.
The practice of some professions in the country by foreigners is banned under the Constitution. Foreign equity participation in areas such as telecommunications, mining, media and utilities are still limited to minority shareholdings.
But DTI assistant secretary Ramon Vicente Kabigting earlier said the Philippines’ existing agreement with New Zealand on environment and labor standards could be its stepping stone to become a member of the TPPA.
“The US may demand to further raise the level of standards among TPP members, we have initially hurdled the requirements as we have signed and engaged on labor and environmental standards with New Zealand,” Kabigting said.
Other topics discussed by Weisel and Cristobal, include US concerns on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), labor standards, excise taxes on wines and spirits and customs facilitation.
The meeting was undertaken within the broad coverage of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) existing between the two countries and designed primarily to improve two-way trade as well as economic ties.