Philippines open to FTA, higher GSP+ with EU
Louella Desiderio (The Philippine Star) - February 21, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines remains interested in having a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) and increasing utilization of the trade preference program Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) despite concerns raised by the trade bloc on the country’s human rights and workers’ welfare situation.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters the country remains open to discussions for FTA with EU, even as the trade bloc said in its Report on the GSP+ for 2018 to 2019 that there are a number of concerning issues in the country.

“They know that we are open to discussing that any time with them. The ball is in their court on how they will respond to that interest of ours. We will always be open to discussing it. They have a new leadership so we hope they can reciprocate the interest and at least continue the discussions, the rounds of talks leading into the FTA,” he said.

There have been two round of talks for the FTA between the EU and the Philippines, with the first held  in May 2016 in Brussels in Belgium, and the last one held in February 2017 in Cebu.

While the EU and the Philippines are still far from having the FTA in place, Lopez said the country is able to enjoy trade preferences under the GSP+ which allows beneficiary countries to export 6,274 products to the trade bloc at zero duty.

To enjoy the trade perks, beneficiary countries of the EU GSP+ have to implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labor rights, protection of the environment and good governance.

In the past, the EU has raised concerns on the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

In the latest GSP+ report, the EU said concerns remain on human rights in the Philippines given the possible reintroduction of the death penalty for drug offenses, a proposal to reduce the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old from 15 years, extra-judicial killings of people allegedly involved in drugs trade, and attacks on human rights defenders.

On labor rights, the EU said it is concerned with the veto of the security of tenure (SOT) bill which is considered key to addressing abuse in labor contractualization.

Meanwhile, the EU said the Philippines made progress in addressing poverty, hunger, unemployment, and took some further measures on environmental protection.

In response, Lopez said the government continues to engage with the trade bloc on concerns being raised.

“What’s important is we go through that monitoring report, which we do. We handle, we take care of the visiting teams that are doing the monitoring report. That’s what is important, that we are answering their questions,” he said.

On human rights, he said it is an old concern.

“In fact, they should look at the numbers really. It’s not as noisy as before,” he said.

He also said he is confident welfare of workers would not remain an issue as  labor rights are currently being observed even without the SOT bill.

For now, he said the government wants to improve the utilization of the GSP+ through conduct of seminars to encourage more firms to avail of the trade benefit.

In 2018, €1.91 billion euros worth of Philippine exports benefitted from the EU GSP+.

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