MANILA – As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed the European Union’s (EU) interest to recommence free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with the Philippines during her visit to the Philippines from July 31 to Aug. 1, the country’s top trade official targets to relaunch the formal negotiations next year.
During von der Leyen’s event with the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) and the Makati Business Club (MBC) in Makati City Monday, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Alfredo Pascual told reporters they target to restart the scoping discussion by September and finish it within the year.
“It will start with a scoping discussion that will start sometime in September, and the target is to complete it before the end of the year so that the formal negotiation of the FTA could follow suit hopefully by the start of the new calendar year 2024,” Pascual said.
Earlier, Pascual said the DTI aims for a timely conclusion of the FTA with the EU, as the country is expected to graduate from the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+). The Philippines is seen to become an upper-middle income country by 2025.
“The moment we achieve being an upper middle-income country, you have three years to stay with the GSP+. And it’s also possible that we are enjoying the benefits of the GSP+ and also having the FTA on the other hand,” he said.
“What we want to happen is all the preferential treatment that we are getting under the GSP+ will be carried over to the FTA so that there will be a greater permanence of the preferential treatment that we are getting now. So that’s the minimum that we’d ask for,” the DTI chief added.
Under the GSP+, over 6,274 products of the Philippines are treated with zero tariffs.
Meanwhile, Pascual said the EU is interested in lowering the tariff for automotive vehicles to compete with those coming from neighboring countries.
EU-Philippines FTA negotiations have been on hiatus for the past six years, with the last formal negotiations conducted in Brussels in Belgium in 2016 and Cebu in 2017.
Amid the changes in the global economic agenda, recommencing a scoping discussion, or the “terms of reference” for the negotiations, will be necessary before relaunching the formal FTA talks.
“We are very happy because I’ve spent time following this up with my trip to Brussels in October last year and in July this year. I am glad that finally, it came to terms that they will relaunch it,” the DTI chief said.
Pascual added the interest of the EU to resume FTA talks with the Philippines signals that the EU recognizes the Marcos administration’s efforts to address issues and concerns on human rights.
"Under the leadership of President (Ferdinand R.) Marcos Jr., the DTI, along with our inter-agency negotiating team, will closely work with counterparts from the European Commission to ensure the success of the scoping exercise this year. We look forward to the results of this exercise in support of our mutual objective to officially resume the PH-EU FTA negotiations at the most opportune time," he said in a separate statement. (PNA)