RP to pursue free-trade accord with US

Manila Times

Monday, December 11, 2006

RP to pursue free-trade accord with US

By Angelo S. Samonte, Reporter

THE Philippines and the United States have agreed to pursue talks for a comprehensive free-trade agreement (FTA) despite next year’s end to President Bush’s authority to fast track negotiations for any trade-related accord, according to the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry.

Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila said Bush instructed US diplomatic officials to conduct pull-aside meetings, which are informal talks that the trade official considered better than bilaterals.

“President Bush said a comprehensive FTA is possible and he wants USTR [US trade representative] Susan Schwab to continue discussion with us on the comprehensive FTA. The ball right now is with the Philippines,” Favila said, citing the results of a meeting between President Arroyo and Bush during the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meet in Vietnam.

President Arroyo has instructed Doris Magsaysay, the private-sector representative who accompanied the President in Hanoi, to coordinate with the private sector on things they want to include in the FTA, Favila said.

“We want to conduct thorough consultation with NGOs [nongovernment organizations], and all sectors concerned. We don’t want to make the same issues like the JPEPA [Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement] so we are after an extensive and comprehensive consultation with all sectors,” Favila said.

He said he also had talks with US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, Ambassador Larry Mormont and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, all of whom were instructed to engage the Philippines in trade talks.

The Philippines has sent “several missions to Washington” to map out the possible FTA but “there were mixed reactions,” Favila said.

The Philippine team is preparing a “concept” that would include three phases of the possible RP-US FTA since the US policy on FTAs is “really a comprehensive one,” he said.

Under Phase 1 of the package, the two parties must agree on common products like garments and textile. Phase 2 would involve granting additional concessions on more sensitive products, while Phase 3 would cover a more comprehensive range of products and services.

Favila said that the Philippines would benefit much from an FTA with the US, which is the largest economy in the world.

“As in any FTA, the gross domestic product [GDP] of any economy would increase significantly as long as the favorable environment is created,” he said, without giving any time frame on the proposed agreement.

source: Manila Times