Philippines, New Zealand to sign VFA this year

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Philippines, New Zealand to sign VFA this year
resident Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. welcomes New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon during the arrival honors ceremony at Malacañang on Thursday.
Yummie Dingding

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and New Zealand yesterday agreed to enhance military and economic ties, committing to finish a visiting forces pact, elevate their relationship to a comprehensive partnership and boost two-way trade.

President Marcos and New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said they acknowledged their mutual desire to strengthen their countries’ relationship and to lift it in ways that deliver real benefits and advance their shared security and economic interests.

They vowed to maintain and strengthen defense engagements while exploring new frameworks of cooperation to deepen defense ties.

“Both sides committed to the signing of a Mutual Logistics Supporting Arrangement (MLSA) by the end of 2024, and to concluding a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA),” the two leaders said in a joint statement released after their meeting in Malacañang.

The Philippines has visiting forces agreements with its treaty ally the US and Australia. It is also negotiating a reciprocal access agreement with Japan. The commitment to finish a SOVFA came as fresh tensions surround the South China Sea because of China’s aggressive means of asserting its expansive maritime claim.

In 2016, a Hague-based arbitral court invalidated China’s maritime claim and affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone. China refused to recognize the landmark ruling, prompting the Philippines and several other nations to ask Beijing to respect the rule of law.

The need to uphold a rules based-order was again mentioned during Marcos’ engagement with Luxon.

“The Philippines welcomes New Zealand’s continued commitment to advocate for the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” Marcos said, crediting rules-based order for the growth experienced by the region.

“Your support, Mr. Prime Minister, and that of the New Zealand government, strengthens the overarching principles on which our continued march to prosperity and regional security are anchored,” he added.

The Philippines and New Zealand also agreed to elevate the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership by 2026.

“The leaders directed their Foreign Ministers and relevant officials to put in place a Roadmap to guide the establishment of the Comprehensive Partnership, including the elevation of the Foreign Ministry Consultations to the Vice-Ministerial level and the creation of new mechanisms including a Joint Economic Commission and a Maritime Dialogue,” their joint statement read.

“The expected visit by New Zealand’s Foreign Minister to the Philippines later in 2024 would be an opportunity to progress discussions on the Comprehensive Partnership further.”

Marcos and Luxon also discussed bilateral economic cooperation, agreeing to raise two-way trade by 50 percent in six years.

“The two leaders committed to further eliminating unnecessary barriers to trade and working together to ensure that exporters can fully utilize the comprehensive suite of free trade agreements, with a view to achieving a mutually beneficial increase of 50 percent in two-way trade by 2030,” they said.

Marcos and Luxon also committed to boost people-to-people cooperation to ensure the welfare of Filipino migrant workers, especially nurses.

“The two leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation regarding the welfare of migrant workers, particularly Filipino nurses,” their joint statement read.

“Both leaders looked forward to the review of the existing bilateral migrant worker arrangement, which will facilitate the recruitment of Filipino workers to New Zealand and other initiatives.” There are about 79,998 Filipinos in New Zealand.

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