THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is not receptive to the call of domestic industries to delay the full elimination of tariffs on intraregional trade, as mandated for 2010 by the Asean Free Trade Area-Common Effective Preferential Tariff (Afta-CEPT) scheme. The agency, however, recognized that it remains a possibility, as it is still a “political decision” among leaders in the region.
Trade Senior Undersecretary Thomas Aquino said postponing the full implementation of the Afta-CEPT is not just a step backward, but will also draw negative responses from the rest of the world.
“It is possible if all the Asean member-states decide to [delay zero-tariff implementation]. But there will be a negative reaction from the rest of the world that will continue to liberalize [if only the Philippines opts to defer],” Aquino told the BusinessMirror.
He said the best option for the Philippines is still to meet the challenges of a fully liberalized Asean by enhancing competitiveness.
“My sense is the Philippine economy has inherent growth and stoking it further should be through measures to make the country increasingly competitive instead of inviting new problems,” he added.
Earlier, the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) called for the deferment of the elimination of duties on 100 percent of the Asean tariff lines by 2010 as mandated by the Afta-CEPT.
This, the FPI said, will avoid the prospects of intense competition among Southeast Asian industries during difficult economic times.
Currently, 80 percent of the tariff lines in the region are already at zero percent, with the remaining 20 percent to be brought down to zero next year.
FPI said if the government agrees to its proposal, Philippine negotiators and leaders should start networking with their counterparts in the region to get their consensus.
Coinciding with this, FPI said its member-industries will also convince their Asean counterparts to conduct their own lobbying.
Since the situation calls for it, the group said Asean leaders should consider coming up with a special arrangement to delay the total elimination of tariffs for intraregional trade until the crisis is over.
In considering the possibility of delaying the CEPT schedule, the Philippines should look at the ensuing tradeoff because it will become a “choice between missed opportunity to move on and wishful thinking the past could have been better,” said Aquino.
“It’s a bit early to hazard a guess on what’s on the minds of the Asean leaders. It’s a political decision, really,” he added.
Regional leaders will meet starting April 10 in Thailand for the 14th Asean Summit. –Max V. de Leo, Business Mirror