Second round of Philippines-European Union free trade talks deferred

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines and the European Union (EU) have pushed back to next year the second round of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) originally scheduled by the last quarter of 2016.

“There are a lot of logistical issues on these kinds of things and because these are serious meetings, you have to get a lot of colleagues from both sides to be available for the meetings.  So to make sure that’s going to happen, we find the best possible days,” EU delegation to the Philippines head of trade Walter van Hattum said.

Following the first round of talks that took place last May, Van Hattum said the second round is eyed early next year in the Philippines.

Despite the dates being moved, he said the trade deal remains a top priority between both parties.

“The secretaries of the economic cluster, they all tell us that the EU is one of the most important trading partners they have. And that they want to engage more, including through the FTA,” Van Hattum said.

The country was able to secure last year the EU’s nod to commence negotiations for the much sought-after Philippines-EU FTA.

The Philippines has been on the scoping phase for its FTA negotiations with the EU since 2013, with the EU closely looking at the economic reforms being undertaken by the country to advance the FTA negotiations.

The Philippines is the fifth country within ASEAN to start negotiations for a bilateral FTA with the EU.

The negotiations will aim to conclude a deal that covers a broad range of issues such as elimination of customs duties and other barriers to trade, services and investment, access to public procurement markets, and additional disciplines in the area of competition and protection of intellectual property rights.

“Normally for negotiations for FTA you have a lot of different chapters. The more familiar ones is trading goods, trading services, you have competition policy, and procurement, so all together you have a number of group meetings including a group on sustainable development. So normally the agenda follows those groups,” Van Hattum said.

The Philippines currently enjoys a beneficiary country status under the EU-GSP+ which allows it to export 6,274 eligible products duty-free to the EU market.

The FTA is expected to bring EU-Philippines relations to greater heights.

“There’s a lot more in an FTA. You will cover procurement policies, competition laws, and many others. FTA is permanent while GSP, as you know, once the Philippines reaches the upper middle income level basically you are no longer eligible to it,” he said.

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