by Louella Desiderio (The Philippine Star) – Jul 12, 2019
MANILA, Philippines — The next round of talks for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Philippines would take place when the conditions are right as the country’s implementation of conventions on human rights, labor rights, environment as well as good governance are seen by the European Union (EU) as an important factor for trade relations.
“It is a fact the EU – Philippines FTA negotiations have not been suspended. Never have the EU Commission or the council adopted any decision to that effect. The next round will take place when the conditions are right and at a mutually agreed time,” the EU delegation to the Philippines said.
For his part, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines has not received official communication from the EU stating suspension of talks for an FTA.
“They did not say that officially. I don’t know their priorities, but we’re just having problems on the scheduling on the continuation of third round of talks,” he said.
The comments followed reports the bloc has suspended FTA talks with the Philippines over concerns on the country’s promotion and protection of human rights amid the ongoing war on drugs being cited as one of the reasons.
Other reasons cited for the suspension of FTA talks were the bloc’s concerns on trade issues, particularly protection of investments and intellectual property rights.
The EU delegation said the Philippine government’s war on illegal drugs is a serious concern for the bloc, as cited in the 2018 Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) report.
As a beneficiary of the EU GSP+, the Philippines is allowed to export 6,274 products to the bloc at zero duty, but needs to implement and fulfill its commitments to 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, environment and governance principles.
“In fact, given developments in the country, for the EU the priority of EU-Philippine trade relations is on the correct implementation of the 27 UN (United Nations) conventions on human rights, labor rights, environment and good governance, which are at the basis of the EU GSP+ scheme. The EU is also actively engaged in various programs aimed at strengthening the export performance under the EU GSP+,” the EU delegation said.
While the Philippines already benefits from the GSP+, the Department of Trade and Industry has said earlier it is in the interest of the country to have an FTA with the EU as such would make current trade perks permanent.
The GSP+ beneficiary status has a 10-year effectivity from the time it was granted, and available only to low or lower-middle income countries or those with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita below $4,000.
The Philippines, which secured GSP+ beneficiary status in December 2014, currently has a GDP per capita of around $3,000.
There have been two round of talks for the EU-Philippines FTA so far.
The first round was held in May 2016 in Brussels in Belgium.
In February 2017, the parties conducted the second round of talks in Cebu.