By Roy Mabasa
The Philippines and the United States have officially started the negotiation on a possible bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
This developed as Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez officially assumed his post in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, November 29, shortly after presenting his credentials to President Donald J. Trump.
Romualdez said the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) meeting came barely a fortnight after the successful meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and Mr. Trump at the sidelines of the recent 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila, where the two leaders affirmed their commitment to further deepen the extensive US-Philippines economic relations.
“This early follow-up is a clear demonstration of the two countries’ shared resolve to enhance our long-standing partnership for mutual prosperity,” said Romualdez.
The US is the third biggest trading partner of the Philippines in 2016 and its second biggest market for exports (almost 16% of total PHL exports), and third largest investor into the country.
An FTA provides certainty to reduced or eliminated tariffs for Philippine exports, including those already entering the US market under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. It also provides more economic incentives that will allow the Philippines to remain an attractive place for investors to build, invest, and start businesses.
The Philippine envoy said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano instructed him to build on his recent visit to Washington, together with the Philippine economic managers, and to “follow-up on our mutual efforts to advance the core economic interests of the Philippines and the United States.”
“I find it auspicious, therefore, that we had a productive and frank TIFA meeting with the US side on my first official day as Philippine Ambassador to the United States,” said Romualdez.
This latest meeting in the US Capitol was a follow-up to the formal TIFA meeting in Manila last July. The office of Romualdez said the meeting provided an opportunity for both sides to review outstanding issues and provide updates, particularly on those affecting market access for Philippine and US exports of goods and services.
It was learned that both sides likewise discussed the role of the US GSP program in promoting and increasing the competitiveness of Philippine products in the US market.
In the same meeting, Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo and Acting Assistant US Trade Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Karl Ehlers welcomed the opportunity to provide substantive action to the pledge of Duterte and Trump to nurture the economic ties between the Philippines and the US.