Farmers and fishermen were among the top beneficiaries of the European Union’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) last year, with the trade privilege allowing the country to export €2 billion worth of domestic products to the regional bloc.
“We are pleased to hear of the significant increase of our exports entering the EU market through the GSP+. This trade preference has benefited several communities in the Philippines and opened opportunities for our micro, small and medium enterprises,” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in a statement last Sunday.
“In the same manner, it has allowed our micro, small and medium enterprises [MSMEs] to be more competitive in the local and foreign markets,” Lopez added.
He made the remark after the EU reported Philippine exports to the regional bloc under the GSP+ jumped by 31 percent year-on-year. The increase in merchandise exports to the EU amounted to as much as $8.4 billion last year, making the EU the country’s third-largest export partner.
The EU’s assessment of the country’s GSP+ reported Philippine exports to the regional bloc last year was valued at €2 billion, higher than the €1.66 billion in 2016. The upsurge was attributed to the increase in food and agriculture exports, such as animal products, fish and related products, prepared food and edible fruits, as well as automotive parts, leather, textile and footwear.
The report highlighted 28 percent of merchandise exports to the EU were animal and vegetable fats and oils; 10 percent were machinery and equipment; 7 percent were prepared meat, fish, crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic invertebrates; 5 percent were optical and musical equipment; 5 percent were chemical products; 5 percent were prepared vegetables, fruits, nuts and other parts of plants; 4 percent were rubber; 3 percent were nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances; and 3 percent were plastic. Other exports made up the remaining 30 percent.
Local communities in far-flung areas benefited the most from export opportunities under the GSP+, according to the Department of Trade and Industry, such as fishermen in General Santos City and coconut farmers in Lanao del Norte.
“We acknowledge that the GSP+ has been an important tool in making the country’s economic growth more inclusive. It also encourages investors to come in and provide job opportunities to many Filipinos,” Lopez said.
In its report, the EU also expressed its concern over the country’s human-rights situation under the Duterte administration. The fate of the country’s trade privilege with the European Union remains uncertain, with the regional bloc again criticizing the government for its war on illegal drugs.
Though the assessment took note of the country’s progress in addressing areas, such as gender equality, human trafficking, labor rights, among others, it, nonetheless, took note of the “cases of extrajudicial killings” in the country.
The EU also criticized the government’s move to reintroduce the death penalty and seek the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility. “The way the campaign against illegal drugs is conducted is a matter of grave concern, in particular, the large number of drug-related killings, as well as the sharp increase in prison overcrowding. The government is encouraged to reconsider its approach to drug-related killings,” the assessment read.
In a text message to the BusinessMirror, Lopez said he is confident Manila will retain its GSP+ with the European Union in spite of disagreements between the two camps on the thrust on illegal drugs.
“Discussions on this continue, and they [the EU] know they have to substantiate first so they continue to monitor [the country’s human-rights situation],” he said.
He also said the European Commission has not recommended the removal of the country’s trade privilege. The GSP+ allows the country to export more than 6,000 eligible products duty-free to the large EU market.