PHL to get busy with trade deal talks

THE government will have its hands full with free-trade agreement (FTA) negotiations next year, as it will begin one with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well, in a bid to secure cheaper oil.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said the Philippines and UAE will begin FTA negotiations next year in a bid to have a trade deal concluded before 2021. He argued it is but right to strike one with Abu Dhabi, as Manila can import oil from it, and export industrial and agricultural products in return.

“I got an idea [of a trade deal] because many of their products, they import. They produce nearly nothing except oil. By that, our products are complimentary: we import oil and then we export everything that they might need,” Lopez told reporters last week in Dubai.

The Philippines and UAE are currently engaged in a joint economic cooperation, which is most likely the stepping stone toward heading into FTA discussions. In his high-level meeting with UAE trade officials and diplomats, Lopez opened up the possibility of a trade deal between the two parties, to which his counterparts agreed to.

“At the technical level, first, we are engaged in a JEC, the joint economic commission. I broached the idea during the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs that this is something we can start and they said they are excited. They want to look at it in terms of trade because UAE is our 16th largest trading partner and over $1.2 billion is our total trade,” he disclosed.

South Korea, US

Aside from the UAE, the Philippines is actively pursuing FTA negotiations with South Korea, initially targeting to get it done last November, but forced to push it back to next year on disputes on several market access issues.

Manila is also expecting Washington to activate free trade talks by next year. Once the United States concludes its agreement with Canada and Mexico, it is eyeing to launch FTA talks with the Philippines next, American businessmen here earlier said.  Based on Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) records, bilateral trade between Manila and Abu Dhabi jumped 42.7 percent to $2.1 billion last year, from $1.5 billion in 2017. Bulk of the trade was due to imports from the Middle Eastern country.

PSA data showed imports doubled to $1.7 billion, from $831.2 million, while exports declined nearly 37 percent to $418 million, from $658 million.

Imports from the UAE comprise mostly oil and petroleum products, which are essential to the country’s economic activities. Further, in terms of services, there are over 700,000 Filipinos working in the Gulf state, mostly in the construction sector.

On the other hand, the Philippines ships refined copper cathodes, fresh bananas, output and input units, as well as static converters and storage units to the UAE.

Lopez and a team of several trade officials were in Dubai last week for the international launch of the country’s participation in the World Expo 2020. The Philippines will be showcasing the bangkota—ancient Filipino word for coral reef—which will house arts, crafts, visuals and products from the country.


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