FTA with Phl not a pri­or­ity for US

The Philippine Star - - BUSINESS - RICH­MOND MERCURIO

Ne­go­ti­a­tions for a bi­lat­eral free trade agree­ment (FTA) be­tween the Philip­pines and the US may not be hap­pen­ing any­time soon, the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce of the Philip­pines said.

“Cur­rently, it seems un­likely the Philip­pines could be­gin bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions with the US any­time soon be­cause other coun­tries may be a higher pri­or­ity,” AmCham se­nior advisor John Forbes told The STAR.

Forbes said sev­eral Amer­i­can of­fi­cials have stated rec­om­men­da­tions for the US to ne­go­ti­ate bi­lat­eral trade agree­ment with its largest ex­port mar­ket coun­tries and Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) economies with which the US does not have bi­lat­eral trade agree­ment, such as Malaysia and Viet­nam.

Forbes pointed out, how­ever, that the trade pol­icy un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is still evolv­ing.

“Nev­er­the­less, the Philip­pines, in our view, should make a de­ci­sion that it is in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing a FTA and then make its de­ci­sion known in diplo­matic chan­nels to Wash­ing­ton. With a new Philip­pine ambassador to the US soon to de­part for Wash­ing­ton, this could be one of his pri­or­i­ties,” he said.

Forbes said the up­com­ing meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Duterte and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dur­ing the lat­ter’s visit to Manila in November should be an­other op­por­tu­nity for the Philip­pines to express its in­ter­est to ex­plore a free trade deal.

He said AmCham has long sup­ported a FTA be­tween the US and the Philip­pines, whether bi­lat­er­ally or mul­ti­lat­er­ally, such as in the TPP.

“Op­por­tu­ni­ties to achieve this were missed when the gov­ern­ment of the Philip­pines de­clined a US invitation to dis­cuss a bi­lat­eral in the early 2000s and when the Philip­pines did not join the TPP 12, now re­duced to the TPP 11,” Forbes said.

“The Philip­pines should also fol­low the progress of the TPP 11 in im­ple­ment­ing the TPP treaty. If they move for­ward, the Philip­pines may wish to join to keep open the pos­si­bil­ity that, were the US to join the TPP in sev­eral years, it could thereby en­joy FTA ben­e­fits to ac­cess the US mar­ket,” he said.

Dur­ing a Trade and In­vest­ment Frame­work Agree­ment (TIFA) meet­ing be­tween the Philip­pines and the US early this month, the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment put for­ward its in­tent to take its bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with the US a notch higher through a com­pre­hen­sive bi­lat­eral FTA.

Trade Un­der­sec­re­tary Ce­ferino Rodolfo, who cochaired the TIFA meet­ing with As­sis­tant US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bar­bara Weisel, ear­lier said the US wel­comed the coun­try’s pro­posal, say­ing it would fur­ther study the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing toward a FTA with the Philip­pines.

Rodolfo also said the US gov­ern­ment con­firmed its cur­rent trade pol­icy would be toward bi­lat­eral rather than mul­ti­lat­eral or re­gional ar­range­ments.

Forbes said a po­ten­tial bi­lat­eral FTA would ben­e­fit both coun­tries.

For the Philip­pines, he said it would give the coun­try ac­cess to the US mar­ket, es­pe­cially for gar­ments and footwear, and for cur­rent Gen­eral Sys­tem of Pref­er­ences ben­e­fited ex­ports when the Philip­pines even­tu­ally loses its GSP priv­i­leges as a re­sult of be­com­ing a higher in­come econ­omy.

The ad­van­tage for the US, mean­while, is im­proved ac­cess to the Philip­pine mar­ket for ex­ports and investments and higher stan­dards of pro­tec­tion for in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and other ser­vices, Forbes said.

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