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PH signs new free trade deal

The Philippines and the four-nation European Free Trade Association on Thursday signed a free trade agreement in Bern, Switzerland, a trade official said Thursday.

Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo confirmed the news from an active information exchange with the Philippine delegation in Bern led by Trade Secretary Adrian Cristobal Jr.

“From what I know, the agreement should have been signed Thursday around 4:30 in the afternoon,” he said.

EFTA, a free trade area consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, recently concluded the fifth and final round of talks and eight consultations with the Philippine government before the agreement was signed.

The Trade Department said the agreement with EFTA would be the country’s second free trade deal, after the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.  A free trade aims for a free flow of goods, services and people between two or more countries by removing barriers and reducing import duties.

The government is currently developing a work program to encourage and promote utilization of the free trade agreement so that Philippine industries and sectors will benefit from the opportunities and potential of the deal.

“Right now, most Philippine products have duty-free access to the EU through the European Union’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus. We are targeting a more permanent and long-term relationship through the ongoing negotiations with EFTA,” Rodolfo said.

Establishing a strong foothold in the European market is a key component of the country’s trade strategy, according to the department.

Top Philippine exports to EFTA member-states include gold in semi-manufactured forms, digital monolithic integrated circuits, aircraft parts, printed circuits, artificial teeth and silver while top imports from EFTA include medicaments, diagnostic or laboratory reagents, parts of airplanes or helicopters and wrist-watches.

The improving market access with Europe through EFTA will encourage investments in the services and non-services sector, bring in high-value added products, technological knowhow, and capital from the highly developed economies.

Rodolfo said  with the recent development, the Philippines would continue to participate in other multilateral free trade agreements.  It will pursue negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a planned free trade area in the Asia-Pacific, and will hold talks with Trans-Pacific Partnership member-countries including Chile, Peru, Japan and Vietnam.

The government earlier held technical consultations with Canada, Mexico, the United States, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand for the TPP.

“The country’s sectors and industries stand to benefit greatly from these trade initiatives. These will further improve the country’s global standing as we engage in freer trade and attract more foreign direct investments,” Rodolfo said.

Topics: European Free Trade Association , EFTA , free trade deal
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