By Justine Irish D. Tabile, Reporter
THE European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) said free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the Philippines should be fast-tracked to maximize its development impact.
“We recognize that the timely conclusion of the EU-Philippines FTA will result in significant socio-economic development, as well as bring relations to new heights, especially in areas such as trade and investment, employment, economic diversification, innovation, and sustainability,” ECCP President Paulo Duarte told BusinessWorld via e-mail.
At a recent briefing, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary Alan B. Gepty said the DTI is hoping to finalize a decision on whether negotiations for the FTA will resume in the first quarter.
“The ECCP commends the Philippine government’s dedication to advancing discussions on the EU-PH FTA … As such, the ECCP emphasizes the urgency of fast-tracking the negotiations,” Mr. Duarte said.
“The ECCP trusts that the EU and Philippine governments will be able to progress towards the resumption of the negotiations based on its shared values and interests,” he added.
Mr. Gepty told reporters last week that both the EU and the Philippines had submitted their reports to their principals.
“Hopefully, within the first quarter of this year, we will have the two-way decision. We have reported to our principals and the EU has also done the same,” he added.
The EU and the Philippines began exploratory talks for an FTA as early as 2013 with the first round of negotiations taking place in May 2016.
However, talks have been stalled since 2017 over issues related to intellectual property rights and data exclusivity, among others.
Mr. Gepty said that the Philippines will have to take into account the EU trade agenda seen in the EU’s FTAs with other countries.
“The EU is very particular on the sustainable development agenda. They are very particular on the environment, climate change, among others,” he said.
Mr. Duarte said that the ECCP envisions the EU-Philippines FTA to be on par with agreements forged with Singapore and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gepty said that the Philippines is also considering participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
“Actually, we already manifested to join, even before, when it was still the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement,” he said.
“One big reason why we wanted to join TPP, among others, is that the US at the time was still part of TPP and the US is a major trading and investment partner of the country,” he added.
“But of course, many things happened, the US withdrew. But still our interest remains because we believe that the CPTPP parties are valuable partners also of the Philippines,” he said.
He said that there is a need to study the legal implications of the country’s participation in the CPTPP as well as the value-added market access.
“But the participation of the UK bolsters our interest to join the CPTPP. We already have FTAs with most of our major trading partners like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and South Korea,” he said.
“The value added here, in terms of market access, is Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile, and the UK is our major trading partner, so that will provide additional market access if we join,” he added.