AmCham rules out Philippines, US free trade deal

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — With the United States midterm election scheduled in November, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham Philippines) said a free trade agreement (FTA) between the Philippines and the United States may not happen under the first term of the Biden administration.

“Right now everybody’s concerned about China and the trade with China, more than they are to trade with the Philippines,”Amcham executive director Ebb Hinchcliffe told reporters when asked of the implication of the US midterm elections on trade with the Philippines.

“We’re kind of on the back burner. So I don’t see any kind of free trade agreement coming out, even maybe in the first term of Biden because he’s got other things to contend with,” Hinchliffe said.

Earlier this month, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said the Philippines is eyeing to pursue an FTA with the United States to expand trade and investment opportunities between the two countries.

“We now wish to pursue a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US, which will be a more binding and permanent mechanism to lock in market access preferences and other binding commitments to expand trade and investment opportunities between our two countries,”Pascual said earlier at the general membership meeting of Amcham.

“I’ve brought this up in several public forums, and I hope our colleagues from the US are listening,”Pascual said.

The Trade secretary said the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) is also something currently being worked on with the United States, along with other participating countries.

He said that a ministerial meeting on IPEF would be held in Los Angeles early next month.

Pascual said the US has been an important partner and ally of the Philippines for many years, adding that it has consistently been among the top trading partners of the country, even against the backdrop of the pandemic.

He said the United States ranked as the Philippines third largest trading partner, the top export market destination, and the fifth largest import supplier.

Pascual said the Philippines has consistently been a top beneficiary of the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and a significant source of imports for US manufacturers and consumers.

“Our country’s high utilization rates of the GSP demonstrate a growing awareness and demand for GSP-listed export goods from the Philippines,” he said, adding that “we are now awaiting the reauthorization of the GSP. The GSP brings our country tangible benefits such as job creation and skills development for our workers. “

Pascual said earlier that the country has the least number of FTAs in the ASEAN region with only 10.

This is in contrast to Singapore which signed 27 FTAs, Malaysia with 17, and Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam with 15 each.

He said the Philippines needs more FTAs to diversify the country’s exports. “These will diversify the country’s exports in terms of products and services and country destinations and enhance the country’s attractiveness to foreign investments.”

“Most foreign investments in China, for instance, are export-oriented industries. They are from big multinationals having transferred their production facilities to China and using China as a production place,” he said.

Pascual said earlier that without FTAs, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), the Philippines would not be an attractive location for such types of export-oriented enterprises.

He said the push to ratify the RCEP is aligned with the DTI’s strategic priority to create an enabling environment for attracting investments and expanding exports.

Pascual said earlier that the RCEP is a priority of the Marcos administration.

The RCEP is a multilateral trade agreement between and among ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. It provides for an open, inclusive and rules-based trading system to promote deeper economic integration in the region.

The trade deal is expected to boost Philippine exports through enhanced market access in the region. It would provide cheaper goods for production and manufacturing, as well as ensure transparent rules and clear mechanisms for resolving trade issues and concerns, and also allow micro, small and medium enterprises to participate in the global value chain.


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