THE EU-Asean Business Council hopes negotiations for the Philippines-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would commence anew within the year, saying Europe is “lagging behind ‘’ other partners of Southeast Asian countries in terms of FTAs.
“I would hope they can announce the recommencement this year, I think it’s very important. Europe is lagging behind other partners of Southeast Asia in terms of FTAs. We need more negotiations,” EU-Asean Business Council Executive Director Chris Humphrey told reporters on the sidelines of the recent European-Philippine Business Dialogue media briefing.
Humphrey noted that FTA discussions with the Philippines are “easiest” compared to some of its counterparts within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) region.
“[From] the discussions I’ve had previously, with the administration here, and from the comments that the President made in Brussels in December, it is quite clear that some of those obstacles for the Philippines are not that big,” the EU-Asean Business Council official said.
He said the “ambition gap” between Europe and the Philippines is “much closer” than it is between Europe and some of the Asean countries.
Hence, he added, “I think an FTA negotiation with the Philippines would progress more quickly and will stand a chance of being done relatively fast and relatively fast in FTA terms means probably … I think the chance here is there.”
“When the talks were running a few years ago, progress has been made. If you talk to the negotiators on the EU side like I have done, their view is we think we can move quite briskly with the Philippines,” he said.
A month ahead of Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual’s European Investment Mission, Humphrey said, “We’ll be using that as another opportunity to push the case.” He quoted European businesses as citing the need to re-commence negotiations. Moreover, he said “there’s a lot of pressure now being applied on the European Commission for that to happen.”
He added, “You need the FTA in place to enable you to keep trading with Europe and get more investments from Europe as well.”
For Europe, he said “the advantages are clear,” as the Philippines is a “great place to come and do business. We all know that. You are having a tremendous growth rate. You’ve got a marvelous workforce, you have huge actual resources, you have great potential.”
As for the sectors that could benefit from an FTA between Europe and the Philippines, “I think anybody who’s manufacturing goods, agricultural sector will be beneficial for the Philippines, you know, to export more agricultural products to Europe, under an FTA.”
In return, he said, the European businesses “coming in renewable energy; energy efficiency areas are going to be huge ones for them. You would hope also, that automotive can do a lot more here from Europe, particularly with a push towards electrification.”
In a statement last week, Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual said the Philippines is “keen on pursuing the resumption of negotiations concerning the Philippines-EU FTA.
Pascual stressed that a successful negotiation of the FTA will provide these benefits: Help the Philippines secure additional duty-free market access beyond those covered by the [EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus] EU GSP+ scheme; Provide a conducive framework for attracting greater investments from the EU; and put the Philippines on a par with other Asean countries aggressively pursuing FTAs with the EU.