Senator Loren Legarda (File photo) 

MANILA – Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda on Wednesday cited the significant gains of the country's economy since the free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in the last five years. 

Legarda, chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations, said the Philippines has maintained its strong foothold in the European market since the enforcement of EFTA in 2018. EFTA states are Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechstenstein.

"Given the current developments with our cooperation with EFTA states, I am confident that the partnership would be beneficial to our economy. The preference utilization rate of the Philippines continues to improve, from 30 percent in 2019 to 31 percent in 2020 as per the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)," Legarda said in a statement. 

From 2018 up to the third quarter of 2022, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said the Investment Promotion Agencies (IPA)-approved Swiss investment totaled PHP1.4 billion in the manufacturing, real estate and administrative sectors.

On the other hand, investments from Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein for the same period amounted to PHP229.4 million in the finance and insurance, manufacturing, administrative, transportation, and storage sectors.

On January 10, 2023, delegations from the Philippines and EFTA member states met in Geneva, Switzerland for its first Joint Committee meeting focused on trade in goods, sustainable development, trade facilitation, and technical cooperation.

DTI Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo headed the Philippine delegation, while Ms. Karin Büchel, Minister at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, acted as the EFTA spokesperson.

The Philippines was able to secure duty-free market access for all industrial and fisheries tariff lines and significant concessions on agricultural products through the FTA.

"We will maximize the benefits from this FTA as we recognize our bilateral trade as a promising tool toward economic recovery and building back better post-Covid (coronavirus disease) pandemic, the global economic recession following the Russia-Ukraine war, and the twin crisis of climate and biodiversity" Legarda said.

In 2020, the country exported tuna, desiccated coconuts, fruits and nuts, processed foods and other food preparations, pasta, malt products, vacuum cleaners, new pneumatic tires, and hairdressing apparatus with reduced or zero tariff rates amounting to EUR24.84 million.

DTI also said the opening of 100 percent foreign capital in renewable energy projects will pave the way for more investments from EFTA to the Philippines, particularly in the energy sector.

The PH-EFTA FTA is the Philippines' second bilateral FTA next to the Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJEPA), which officially entered into force in December 2008.

"Opening markets through agreements such as the EFTA enables a business environment conducive for investments, and thus, provides opportunities for producers, consumers, and service suppliers alike. We want to promote international trade to help Filipino businesses and MSMEs through the benefits that we get from FTAs," she said. (PNA)