FREE-TRADE AREA ARRANGEMENT ON THE HORIZON
Philippine and US Trade officials have intensified talks on trade and investment relations between the two countries during the recent Trade and Investment Facilitation Agreement (TIFA) meeting held in Washington, D.C., a Trade department report said.
Based on the discussions led by Thomas Aquino, Philippine Trade senior undersecretary, and Barbara Weisel, assistant representative of the US Trade Representative Office (USTR), the two nations took up more steps in enhancing market access and seeking opportunities on bilateral and regional initiatives which.
This then would strengthen trade and economic cooperation, including a free-trade area (FTA) arrangement in the future.
During the talks, Philippine officials told its US counterparts of the country’s intention to pursue customs cooperation and trade facilitation through enhanced security and reduced post-arrival delays, especially on Philippine-made apparel goods.
The two countries also worked on a draft protocol on trade facilitation and explored the possibility of customs pre-clearance of products shipped from Philippines from selected economic zones, into the US.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Department of Agriculture told the US it plans to put up an agricultural trade and investment mission, which would be participated by priority sectors such as high-value agricultural products, biofuels, fisheries and cold food chains.
The Americans assured that the agriculture department should capitalize on the requisite quarantine protocol for Philippine fresh bananas and non-Guimaras mangoes so that these can penetrate the US market.
The USTR provided the Philippines with a database on the status of its use of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), so that the country could look for other products that are GSP-eligible that have not yet availed of the zero-tariff privilege under the US GSP program.
The Philippines said it would review its low GSP utilization rate and would advise Philippine exporters to maximize the duty-free concessions.
In a related development, the US government has expressed disappointment over the Philippines’ substantive and procedural administration of the guidelines on pork and poultry importation under the Minimum Access Volumes (MAV) for agricultural products.
Local authorities released a deadline for public comments on the proposed revisions in MAV rules earlier than the bilaterally scheduled high-level technical discussions in the US. The American government was concerned about the potential disruption in pork and poultry exports to the Philippines because of this action.
The TIFA, signed by the Philippines and the US in 1989, sets out the principles and mechanisms for bilateral consultations to expand trade and investments between the two nations and aims to address the specific issues and other concerns of interests to both countries.
The US is a major Philippine export destination as well as a primary source of imports. In 2007, two-way trade amounted to $16.4 billion, as total Philippine exports to the US amounted to $8.54 billion, which accounted for 16.99 percent of total exports, while Philippine imports from the US amounted to $7.91 billion that accounted for 14.31 percent of total imports. Latest trade data covering January to August 2008 showed that total Philippine-US bilateral trade was worth $10.52 million, with exports valued at $5.51 million and imports at $4.98 million. –Ben Arnold O. de Vera, Researcher, Manila Times