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DTI sees US Free Trade Deal gaining traction within two years

The Business World
Anna Gabriela A. Mogato
February 20, 2018

THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) expects considerable progress within one to two years in the Philippines’ bid to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told reporters on Tuesday that while both sides are still conducting their own studies, it may be possible to move to a phase of more intensive negotiations within two years’ time.

Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez, US-Philippines Society Business and Investment Forum, February 20, 2018, Manila

“Right now, it’s only exploratory but at least it’s moving, compared to last year when it wasn’t even moving. By the third year, we could really be at an advanced stage,” he added.

The DTI is currently looking into products that could be promoted further while the US is championing greater access for its meat products, Mr. Lopez said.

“I won’t say this will be fast. It’s a big economy (US) but we hope to seal it within this administration,” Mr. Lopez said.

Mr. Lopez added that negotiations for FTA need around three to five years.

In the meantime, the Philippines will continue to enjoy reduced to zero tariffs in selected exporters to the US through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) which has been recently amended to be renewed to every three years.

With the expected timeline, Mr. Lopez sees a smooth transition from being a GSP beneficiary to FTA partner.

The DTI is still in the process of negotiating the addition of footwear and garments to the list.

“Right now a lot of products are included. If it’s agro-business, I would expect many, if not all, are included already. Otherwise I would push for more agro-based products to be included aside from garments,” he added.

“We have to align with the industry sectors to see whatever’s not in the GSP, that’s what we’re going to push for.”

Separately, the US-Philippines Society (USPS) announced it will help explore partnership opportunities in telecommunications construction, energy, agriculture and aerospace industries.

Mr. Lopez said that the aforementioned areas are the same areas that the Philippines has been inviting the US to invest in.

“It’s aligned with our push [which] is the innovation-driven industries,” he added.

USPS co-chair Manuel V. Pangilinan said that the country needs the US to help provide the needed capacity to build on the areas especially those dependent on technology.

“I think that there’s really need for the Philippines really to expand its contacts with American companies like in our case, in telecoms […] and that’s quite interesting to us because that exposes us to technological trends related to business,” he added.

Mr. Pangilinan heads Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co., Ltd.’s investments in the country which include Philex Mining, Corp., Metro Pacific Investments Corp., and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., Inc. (PLDT).

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary Mediaquest Holdings, has majority stakes in BusinessWorld through its Philippine Star Group. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato

The article was first published by Business World, February 20, 2018

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