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Trade Representative Office vs DTI (Part I)

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By Nelly Favis-Villafuerte

Nelly Favis-Villafuerte

Nelly Favis-Villafuerte

During my 7-year stay at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as undersecretary, more than two years were spent with the International Sector.  As undersecretary in-charge for International Trade, I exercised supervision over eight bureaus under Executive Order No. 133 series of 1987.  Among the bureaus that I supervised were the: Bureau of International Trade Relations (BITR); Bureau of Export Trade Promotion (BETP); Foreign Trade Service Corps (FTSC); Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM); Philippine Trade Training Center (PTTC); and the Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines (PDDCP).

Last week (March 18), I wrote in this column an article entitled “Exports and our commercial attachés.  One of the high-ranking Commercial Attachés during my time sent me at 9:00 a.m. on the day my article came out (March 18), a short e-mail – a reaction to my article last week.  I was heartened and the note lifted my spirits.  Here’s the short e-mail:

“Good morning Ma’am

“I’m in Davao this morning I read your article with great pride of having work with you.

“It was great honor to have serve you.

“Indeed, the work then required personal sacrifice for the greater satisfaction of public service.

“I’m now working with Liwayway, where I’m in charge of in coming investment missions from China

“I also handle outward investments of the company in places like South Africa, India, etc.

“Salamat po!

“Mike Haresco”

In my article last week, I mentioned that commercial attachs have gained a lot of exposure and experience in their jobs as commercial attachés at DTI – and there is life for them after ending their careers as commercial attachs.  The case of Mike Haresco confirms my opinion.

By the way, this article today is not about commercial attachs anymore but about the ongoing discussions in business circles as to whether there is now a need for our country to open a Trade Representative Office.

Under the provisions of Executive Order No. 133 of 1987 (the basic law governing the reorganization of the DTI and its attached agencies), one of the powers and functions of the DTI is and I quote: “To take the primary role in negotiating and reviewing existing international trade agreements, particularly those affecting commodity quotas limiting existing exports of Philippine products to determine programs for renegotiations of more favorable terms.”

The particular bureau in DTI in-charge of negotiating and reviewing existing international agreements is the Bureau of International Trade Relations (BITR).  Under the provisions of Executive Order No. 133 of 1987, Section 13 (a): “This Bureau shall be the primary agent responsible for all matters pertaining to foreign trade relations, whether bilateral, regional or multilateral, especially market access and market access-related matters; formulate positions and strategies for trade negotiations, consultations and conferences as well as supervise trade negotiations, consultations and conferences; coordinate with other Departments and agencies of the Philippine government with the view of assuring consistency in the government’s positions in trade negotiations and on other activities pertaining to foreign trade relations; consult with industry groups and provide technical advice and information on the above matters and activities; identify tariff and non-tariff barriers affecting products of export interest to the Philippines, and negotiate measures for liberalizing them at bilateral, regional and multilateral fora; and evaluate and submit recommendations on existing and proposed commercial policies of the Philippines.”

Whether we like it or not and whether we admit it or not – the fact is that the trade situation here in our country and in the international market in 1987 is very, very different from the trade situation today.  For one, our exposure today in the international market is awesome compared to our exposure years ago.  There have been many developments including introduction of new technologies and changes in international trade policies and practices that make trade negotiations and the structuring of trade agreements more complicated.  Also, we have been overtaken by other countries in Southeast Asia – in terms of export performance.  Finally, the structure of trade relationships between and/among nations have been undergoing major changes.  An example is the growing preference of countries for bilateral agreements over multilateral agreements. Take the case of China and Saudi Arabia regarding China’s oil purchase.  A bilateral agreement between the two countries gave rise to the so-called petro-yuan.  Rather than use US dollar (petro-dollar) as the medium of exchange, the two countries agreed to have China pay in Yuan rather than US dollar.

One may ask: Is there a duplication in functions and budgets between the DTI and the proposed Trade Representative Office?  Or will the proposed Trade Representative Office be as effective vehicle to expedite and enhance the harmonious coordination among the different government agencies (like DTI) that deal in international trade negotiations? (To be continued)

Have a joyful day! (For comments/reactions please send to Ms. Villafuerte’s email: villafuerte_nelly@yahoo.com)

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