By Chino S. Leyco
Manila and Washington have renewed their interest in exploring a possible free trade agreement (FTA) between two longstanding allies, but a US senior representative raised several concerns before they can jump-start discussion.
In a statement, the Department of Finance (DOF) said yesterday that there was a recent meeting between Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and US Deputy Trade Representative for Asia Jeffrey Gerrish where the two discussed ways to further deepen bilateral economic cooperation.
According to the DOF, Dominguez and Garrish particularly discussed the possibility of pursuing an FTA between the two countries.
The meeting, which also included Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol “centered on America’s interest in initiating ‘informal preparatory meetings’ with the Philippines.”
The “scope, timing and process” leading to an FTA between Manila and Washington” was also discussed, the department said.
But Gerrish raised several concerns with the Philippine officials before the US formally enters into a free trade negotiation.
Among the issues the US wanted to resolve involve the Philippines’ agricultural products such as rice, meat and poultry; the customs processes; and intellectual property rights (IPR).
Washington also wants the Philippines to have an open and competitive market for electronic payment (e-payment) services.
Garrish said the US is “prepared to move forward” and proceed “to high-level discussions in the near future” to determine how these concerns should be addressed, possibly through a series of agreements between the two countries.
Dominguez, for his part, made it clear that the government under the Duterte administration is committed to promoting “open markets and free trade.”
The finance chief also expressed the government’s concern over the brewing trade spat between the US and China, which, he said, would benefit the Philippines only in the short term, but would lead to negative repercussions felt by economies across the globe if the feud worsens.
Gerrish, in turn, said that discussions with China on how to resolve this concern “have been continuing.”
During the meeting, Dominguez also invited, through Gerrish, US companies to get involved in the Philippines’ infrastructure modernization program.
Dominguez said US participation in the “Build, Build, Build” program would widen the field of “good and strong companies” to choose from to help the government fulfill its infrastructure agenda.
Bilateral trade between the Philippines and the US amounted to $16.6 billion in 2017, ranking second among the markets for Filipinos’ merchandise exports with a total of $9.2 billion last year, higher by four percent compared with the previous year.
The US ranked fourth as a market for Philippine imports, with a value reaching $7.4 billion in 2017.