The Philippines is making significant strides in its pursuit of free trade agreements (FTA) with Europe as several major developments are seen happening before the current administration steps down from office next year.
In an interview over the weekend, Trade sssistant secretary Ceferino Rodolfo said the country is set to conclude within the first half of next year an FTA with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), while official FTA negotiations with the bigger European Union (EU) would also commence.
“We are about to conclude the EU scoping negotiations. When you say you are about to conclude scoping negotiations, that means you will be starting the official FTA negotiations,” Rodolfo said.
“If you start any FTA negotiations, you will have to go first through exploratory study and then scoping. Scoping means you are drafting the terms of reference for your negotiations. It’s a non-binding document that is meant to provide guidance to the negotiators on the coverage and basic principles they will have to follow. After the scoping then we engage in a formal FTA negotiation. Normally, it takes two to three years,” he added.
The Philippines has been on the scoping phase for its FTA negotiations with the EU since 2013 and the expected start of formal negotiations soon is a positive development for the country.
The EU has been closely looking at the economic reforms being undertaken by the Philippines to advance the FTA negotiations.
“They saw our efforts when it comes to the Competition Law which has been passed finally after decades. They also saw the amendments to the Cabotage Law. The Strategic Trade Management Act has been passed and foreign banking has been liberalized. They saw that all of these are for good governance and for liberalization. They saw the reform efforts would continue, so they became more confident in the Philippines,” Rodolfo said.
With the country enjoying trade preferences to the EU at the moment, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said securing an FTA with the bloc within four to five years would make the benefits permanent.
Aside from the potential EU-Philippine FTA, the country is soon finalizing an FTA with the four-member states of EFTA covering Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Rodolfo said the Philippines finished the fourth negotiating round with EFTA two weeks ago in Geneva. –Richmond S. Mercurio, Philstar