ABS-CBN | 1/22/2008
US cool to RP’s proposal for free trade agreement
By MARIANNE V. GO
The Philippine Star
The United States remains lukewarm to the Philippines’ push for a free trade agreement (FTA).
In a press conference Monday, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said President Bush’s National Security Adviser Daniel Price, who met with Philippine officials last week, indicated that FTA talks at the moment are subject to the US electoral process and the resolution of the stalled World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.
Yap said Price visited the country to seek Philippine support for the US’s attempt to break the current WTO impasse on agricultural subsidies.
The current Doha Round of trade talks has been stalled by the wide gap between the positions of developing and developed countries on agricultural subsidies and more market liberalization.
The US and European Union are both hanging on to their agricultural subsidies, with the EU expressing more willingness to compromise.
Yap pointed out that while the US is seeking Philippine support in the WTO talks, the Philippines is asking the US government to move forward on an FTA or at least craft a new trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA).
Yap had broached the subject of pursuing an FTA with US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and US Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner in a trip to the US last December.
Yap said this, "is the right time for the Philippines to initiate the enhancement of trade relations with the US by way of an FTA, considering that the country’s economic and fiscal status is very positive."
Yap said he had informed Conner of the Philippines’ constructive participation in the G33, a grouping of developing countries that coordinate trade and economic issues pertinent to negotiations within the WTO.
President Arroyo has expressed hope that an FTA between the Philippines and the US could materialize by 2010.
She brought up the FTA issue during her meeting with US President George Bush on the sidelines of the 14th annual meeting of the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Hanoi last year, to which the American chief executive responded positively.
President Arroyo had earlier instructed the Asia-Pacific Business Advisory Council to prepare a draft of the RP-US Free Trade Agreement to help speed up the required processes once negotiations start.
In consultations with various stakeholders, a Philippine team has come up with the proposal for a three-stage RP-US FTA.
Under phase 1 of the proposed package, the two parties must agree on common products like garments and textile and possibly, electronics.
Phase 2 would cover the granting of additional concessions on more sensitive products, while Phase 3 would delve on a comprehensive coverage of products and services.