The Philippine government is hoping to conclude by April negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Free Trade Association (Efta), a move that will further strengthen and solidify the country’s access to one of its biggest markets to date.
In a briefing Friday, Trade Secretary Adrian S. Cristobal Jr. said the government was aiming to finally sign, during the sixth round of negotiations that would be held in Europe this April, the agreement with Efta member states Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
“If signed, this would be our first bilateral agreement after the Philippine Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (Pjepa). This is significant because … there has been a long lull with our FTA negotiations. But since 2010, with this administration, we started building up our trade policies and negotiating capability. We also set up our consultative mechanisms and our advocacy,” Cristobal said. He said the country has determined its strong points, enabling the government “to negotiate with confidence again with the different countries and expand market access.”
Cristobal said he was confident of the positive outcomes of the fifth round of the FTA negotiations, which were held in the Philippines just last week. He stressed, however, there were still some areas that needed further discussion and refinement.
Such details are expected to be threshed out and finalized during the sixth round in April.
The trade chief assured anew that goods, particularly agricultural products, and services offered by the Philippines would complement the needs of Efta members and vice-versa. Among the products for export mentioned during the earlier negotiations in Geneva included canned tuna, processed tropical fruits (juices, canned) and other high value products like coco water and coco sugar. Also mentioned in the talks were aquaculture feeds, which the country already supplies to some countries in Europe.
Cristobal noted that while Efta member states are small, they are rich countries that can be sources of investments and technology. Efta is currently regarded as an important global economic player and trading partner.
In 2014, the total commodity trade between Efta states and the Philippines amounted to around $636 million. Total foreign direct investments has risen steadily in the last few years.
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