US-Philippines FTA has high chance of moving forward

Richmond Mercurio - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — A proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the US and the Philippines is making strong headway as both parties are showing inclination in moving forward towards the realization of a bilateral deal.

“Good news to learn that United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Robert Lighthizer has acknowledged in a recent US Congressional hearing that as they conduct thorough studies in strengthening bilateral relations and having an FTA with other countries in the Pacific, such as Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam, they also look at the Philippines as a reasonable first step in their strategy in the Asia-Pacific region,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

“I believe that this will be a good indication of how we will be able to elevate the quality of our trade ties with the US, going beyond the current GSP arrangements,” Lopez added.

In his statement posted on the USTR website, Lighthizer was quoted as saying that the US is “prepared to explore the possible countries in Africa and Southeast Asia that might be appropriate for us to enter into a free trade agreement.”

Lopez said the exploration stage of the proposed bilateral FTA between the Philippines and the US are continuing.

He said domestic consultations with industries are ongoing in preparation for advancement of talks and commencement of official negotiations.

US-Philippine Society co-chair and former US Ambassador to the Philippines John Negroponte, meanwhile, has said the US government sees the Philippines in a good position to secure a bilateral FTA with them given significant progress in the country’s trade and investment front.

Negroponte said there is recognition in Washington that the Philippines continues to make progress in addressing trade and investment issues and that its economy continues to demonstrate growth potential.

“Washington also understands good news stories in the Philippines. There is recognition in progress in intellectual property protection and improved labor standards and a commitment to pursue reforms and ease restrictions on investment,” he said.

“The Philippines seems well positioned and agreeable to explore a bilateral free trade agreement and its modest trade surplus is not seen in Washington as a significant obstacle by comparison with certain Asian economies,” Negroponte added.

Negroponte, however, said the Philippines should recognize that in Washington, perceptions influenced by the media and political interests also matter. 

“Trade agreements are reached in a political atmosphere not in a technical vacuum,” he said.

“Warm relationship developed over the past year between the two Presidents and two administrations offer much promise as a starting point and should be helpful in driving the deal, but we should not underestimate the benefits of gaining a broad a constituency of support in Congress and the foreign policy community in order to achieve success,” Negroponte added.

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