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US business leaders downplay PH concerns, cite US-ASEAN FTA talks

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By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

 

American business leaders have assured the Philippines of continued long-term relationship in an apparent attempt to calm down concerns from both sides as they even welcomed the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement between the ASEAN and US.

The US-Philippines Society, composed of some 30-private sector and civic leaders, held a three-day (Feb. 20-22) meeting and business mission in the country.

The group is co-chaired by PLDT Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan.  Leading the US delegation is Co-Chair John D. Negroponte, former ambassador to the Philippines, who was joined by Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard and Society President Ambassador John F. Maisto.

Hubbard said that since the Trans Pacific Partnership has been junked already by US President Donald Trump, the idea of ASEAN-US could be a possibility now.

“The US-ASEAN FTA might be a good idea to be received, so it should not be discarded as a possibility because ASEAN is a very important market,” he said.

Former Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose L. Cuisia Jr. said that he pushed hard the FTA deal during his time but had also been consistently turned down.

With the thrust of the Trump administration for bilateral FTA rather than the multilateral deal, revival of the FTA deal might be timely this time.

Earlier, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines even pushed for a bilateral FTA between the US and the Philippines to which Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said might be something the government can explore. Lopez, however, said that it is not a priority since they would rather focus on existing FTA negotiations particularly the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Pangilinan for his part was cautious saying there should be specific issues to be addressed when it comes to FTA negotiations like what the Philippines can export to the US market and if the US will open its market for the country’s export.

Maisto, for his part said the US PH Society is a venue to which this kind of idea can be discussed based on data and they continue to reflect on this proposal.

“We come to Manila to seek advice and support for carrying the Society’s mission forward in 2017,” he said.

In light of the changing geopolitical and economic developments, both business leaders asked both sides to give the transitioning new governments of the US and the Philippines a chance to settle down.

Pangilinan stressed that the Society’s Board meeting in Manila was held at a fortuitous moment as both countries go through their respective political transitions.

“We will explore opportunities for the Society to pursue its mission of strengthening ties between our two countries under these new circumstances,” said Pangilinan.

Negroponte stressed that President Trump has reaffirmed the value of alliances and was strongly committed since he took office. This was evidenced when he met with Japanese Prime Minister Abe as he assured of continued US support in reference to the territorial dispute between Japan and China.

Negroponte said the private sector also continues to promote increased awareness that huge opportunities continue to exist between the US and the Philippines.

The goal is to sustain the momentum of the PH-US Society given its record accomplishments in the past five years, he said.

Headquartered in Washington D.C., the Society was launched in 2012 with the mission of raising the profile of today’s Philippines through programs on business, governance, culture, shared history, education, strategic issues and conflict resolution.

The Society’s programs reach policy-makers and opinion shapers in Washington and beyond and attract interest from within the growing Filipino-American community.

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