EU and the Philippines in 2023

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

As I wrote in this column last November, 2022 brought a renewed positive momentum in EU-Philippines relations. Our ambition is to keep going and build on this momentum to further develop our strong relationship. 2023 is shaping up to be a year where we will have plenty of opportunities to do so through various events, projects, initiatives, visits and engagements. Allow me to elaborate further on this.

Since the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the Philippines in 2018, we have held annual meetings in which we discuss many topics and build further on new areas of cooperation. During these joint committee meetings, high-level officials from Brussels and the Philippines discuss all aspects of our extensive relationship. Topics range from the overall political situation and the environment, climate change, security and foreign policy to human rights, development cooperation and trade relations. For these last three matters, we delve further into the details in separate sub-committees to ensure that we deeply understand each other’s interests and priorities. These meetings are an excellent opportunity to share best practices and truly learn from each other. My delegation has already started the preparations to ensure that we will have fruitful discussions again this year.

On EU partnerships with the Philippines, two primary programs are in the offing in 2023. On the one hand, we will see the launch of the Philippines’ partnership with the EU Copernicus Earth Observation Program. Once the partnership is signed, the Philippines will have access to Copernicus’s extensive database, which government agencies can use to streamline disaster response, monitor environmental efforts and update the country’s forest and coastal resources maps.

On the other hand, we will see the launch of the Green Economy Program to support the Philippines in its inclusive and green recovery. Combating climate change and the transition to a green economy are top priorities in the EU’s policy agenda internally and in our external relations. The Philippines also sees these as central to its future, so naturally, we cooperate in this area. And, of course, we will continue supporting the Philippines in reforming the justice sector and contributing to peace and development in Mindanao and the BARMM.

In 2023, we will also increase our cooperation in the maritime area. This is crucial for both the Philippines and the EU. Our cooperation aims to build capacity in partners’ maritime law enforcement authorities to protect marine resources, counter illegal activities at sea and uphold the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Thus, this year, we will continue to partner with the Philippine Navy, the Coast Guard, the National Coast Watch Center and other relevant authorities on maritime security through the EU’s Crimario project. With Crimario, the EU aims to improve the region’s law enforcement capacity and increase knowledge about the maritime domain through a regional coordination and communications tool. Cooperation in this area is crucial for the EU as approximately 50 percent of our maritime trade passes through this region.

In this context, we hope that our discussions can be deepened with the set up of an additional annual sub-committee focusing on maritime issues. In this forum, we will discuss, among others, the possibility of expanding cooperation on maritime jurisdictions, security, ocean governance and shipping. We will also work constructively on the training standards of Filipino seafarers.

2023 will be another important year for EU-Philippine trade relations. The EU is the Philippines’ fourth largest trading partner, accounting for 7.9 percent of the country’s total trade in 2021. Since December 2014, the Philippines has enjoyed enhanced trade preferences with the EU under the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+). This special arrangement grants the removal of tariffs for Philippine exports to the EU on two thirds of all product categories.

In return, the Philippines commits to effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance. As the current GSP+ scheme ends on Dec. 31, 2023, we will work closely with the Philippines on issues like the environment, climate change and human rights to ensure that the Philippines can continue to benefit from these trade preferences as the new scheme begins in 2024.

Respect for human rights is a top priority in the foreign policy of the EU and another area in which we will cooperate closely in the coming year. In this context, we strongly welcome the commitments made by the Marcos administration in various international fora to continue its work in this area. The EU will continue to be the Philippines’ partner in this never-ending effort.

In this context, a delegation from the European Parliament and possibly the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, will visit the country to discuss this important topic with all relevant stakeholders. Such visits ensure that policymakers in the EU have a thorough understanding of the country’s situation and the various challenges and opportunities that exist to make progress.

As you can see, my colleagues at the EU Delegation to the Philippines and I will have plenty of work this year. We are all very excited that we can contribute to strong EU-Philippine relations and look forward to a very productive 2023!

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