EFTA-PH trade deal expected within the year

The Philippines is in negotiations to become part of five free trade agreements and expects the European Free Trade Association to be finalized within the year

THE Philippines expects to seal a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) within the year, a key official of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said.

DTI Export Marketing Bureau (EMB) Assistant Director Agnes Perpetua R. Legaspi said this is only one of the five ongoing negotiations being pursued by the the country to establish free trade agreements with other economies, namely, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Philippine-European Free Trade Agreement, the ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA, and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Once negotiations for EFTA become fruitful, Legaspi said the Philippines could supply EFTA economies with industrial and agricultural products at less or zero tariff.

EFTA is composed of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland. In February, EFTA concluded its fifth round of negotiations with the Philippines.

For the Philippine-European free trade agreement, the DTI official did not specify when this will be realized, but said the Philippines is only relying on the European Union’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (EU-GSP+), which started on 2014, for it to avail of duty-free access to more than 6,000 products within a 10-year period.

The same goes for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The negotiations includes 16 countries where 10 are members of ASEAN and the remaining six countries include Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand. Although ASEAN has existing free trade agreements with these countries, these are on a per country basis and not as a regional bloc.

In addition, the Philippines is also currently in negotiations for the ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA. Legaspi said the country remains interested to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), noting the importance of the United States as a Philippine trading partner.

The TPP, which is currently being initiated by 12 countries, aims to establish a free trade bloc which would represent more than half of global output and over 40 percent of world trade. Aside from the US, other member-countries of the TPP are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“I hope you (exporters) will be aware of these opportunities, so you’ll know how to level up, how you can play in the arena, and find your niche,” the DTI official said during the Philipine Competitiveness Program in Cebu City yesterday, which was attended by exporters from Cebu and neighboring provinces.

Legaspi noted that the Philippines was on the low-end in terms of the availment of the ASEAN FTAs versus neighboring economies in 2010. The Philippines has since improved and ranks fourth in terms of compliance to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) commitments, after Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.

While most of the products bear no tariffs, Legaspi said the Philippines has locked in a 35-percent tariff on rice, five-percent tariff on sugar, and to other identified agricultural output.

“We have calibrated the liberalization for less competitive sectors to allow for them to become more competitive,” Legaspi said.

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