THE Philippines is preparing a host of trade deals with three Asian countries in its bid to become an export powerhouse by 2028, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo recently told reporters that negotiations to craft a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the scoping for a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with India this year while the country’s FTA with South Korea could already be signed within two months.
Rodolfo said the country’s interests in an FTA with the UAE are focused on halal-related products, food manufacturing and finished consumer goods while India could be another destination for Philippine bananas, pineapples and mangoes.
“Mainly, consumer and consumer durables, particularly those of more differentiated, premium products, garments, Timex watches, belt, leather products, food, [then] halal na food, [and] tropical fruits,” Rodolfo said.
We don’t have “sensitivity with respect to UAE. They are really more of a market,” he added. “In terms of renewable energy (RE), (they could be) more of an investor to our RE projects.”
Rodolfo said, however, that the FTA with the UAE may not include all labor concerns such as access given that the country could maximize these kinds of opportunities through bilateral labor agreements that are under the purview of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
“Yung dinidiscuss natin dito sa mga FTAs, mostly movement of natural persons, including those that are in fulfillment of contracts. May company dito na nakakuha ng kontrata, magi-install ng computers, sa isang hotel sa UAE, yung pagdala ng Pilipino doon. Hindi yung isang Pilipino na maghahanap ng trabaho doon. Kasi mas maraming issue doon so kailangan na yung bilateral labor agreement yung protection. Dun yun dini-discuss,” Rodolfo explained.[What we are discussing here in FTAs are mostly movement of natural persons, including those that are in fulfillment of contracts. There is a company here that got a contract to install computers in a hotel in the UAE; to bring Filipinos there. This would not be for only one Filipino looking for a job there because there are more issues there, so the bilateral labor agreement is needed for protection. That is what is being discussed.]
Meanwhile, Rodolfo said the Terms of Reference for the PTA with India could be issued this year and, hence, starts the PTA negotiations between Manila and New Delhi.
The trade official added that in a recent event in Cebu, the Indian Ambassador recognized the need to create a PTA with the Philippines. He said the discussions, unfortunately, were stalled because of the pandemic.
This means the country only needed to reconnect with India, according to Rodolfo. The focus of these PTAs will be in both agricultural and industrial goods.
The PTA with India could also help the Philippines get access to certain products amid bans such as the recent decision of New Delhi to impose a rice export ban.
“[We want to] ensure that we have access to critical Indian products,” Rodolfo said adding there would be no imposition of export restrictions.
He explained that prior to India’s rice export ban, New Delhi restricted the export of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) during the pandemic.
“Tapos nakausap natin sila kaya nakakuha parin tayo.” [Then we talked to them so we still got the APIs.]
Meanwhile, Rodolfo said South Korea has sent a letter to the government that Seoul is ready to sign the agreement since they were already able to complete their domestic processes.
The trade official said Manila is already in the process of completing the certificates of concurrence in order to get a “signing authority” for the agreement.
This reflects the new process adopted by the Office of the President (OP) that the agreement should receive a Certificate of Compliance (COC) before the signing authority is issued.
“Nabago ngayon eh. Dati, signing authority tapos pipirmahan ni Secretary tapos ibabalik kay Presidente at ir-ratify na niya tsaka kukuha ng certificate of concurrence. Ngayon, ang gusto ni OP, for prudence, bago magbigay ng signing authority, may COC na. So front-loaded yung COC,” Rodolfo explained.[Things have changed. Previously, the signing authority would then be signed by the Trade Secretary and then returned to the President and he would ratify and obtain a certificate of concurrence. Now, what the Office of the President wants, for prudence, before giving signing authority, is to have a COC; so the COC is front-loaded.]
Last year, the DTI estimated that the Philippines could generate P150 billion to P200 billion worth of foreign direct investments (FDI) within three years from the FTA with South Korea.
Rodolfo noted the revenue would particularly come from the electric vehicle value chain and, perhaps, in agricultural processing. Rodolfo said wiring harness is included under the EV value chain.
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