FTA with Phl not a priority for US
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.