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Manila, Washington eye start of free trade talks

The United States and the Philippines plan to hold preparatory meetings that will lead to bilateral free trade negotiations, the Finance Department said Monday.

Senior Filipino and US officials recently discussed ways to further deepen bilateral economic cooperation, including the possibility of pursuing a  free trade agreement, according to the department.

Discussions led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III with Jeffrey Gerrish, the US  Deputy Trade Representative for Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Industrial Competitiveness, centered on America’s interest in initiating “informal preparatory meetings” with the Philippines on the “scope, timing and process” leading to an FTA between Manila and Washington.  

The meeting, which also included Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and  Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, was a followup on the  earlier dialog between President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Donald Trump in November last year in Manila, where they discussed ways to strengthen bilateral trade ties. 

Gerrish said the US also wanted to resolve several concerns involving certain agricultural products such as rice, meat rice and poultry;  the Philippines’ customs processes; intellectual property rights; and the need for an open, competitive market for electronic payment (e-payment) services before moving into discussions on the FTA. 

He said the US  was “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 said the Philippine government under the Duterte administration was committed to promoting  “open markets and free trade.”

He 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 worsened.

Gerrish said discussions with China on how to resolve this concern “have been continuing.” 

Dominguez also invited US companies to get involved in the Philippines’ infrastructure modernization program. 

Dominguez said the 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.  

Others who joined the meeting were Finance Undersecretary Antonette Tionko; Karl Ehlers, the acting assistant US trade representative; Michael Klecheski, deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy in Manila; Lynne Gadkowski, deputy economic counselor of the US Embassy; and Brian Breuhaus, economic counselor of the US Embassy. 

Bilateral trade between the Philippines and the US reached $16.6 billion in 2017.  The US  ranked second among the markets for Philippine merchandise exports with a total of $9.2 billion in 2017, which was 4 percent higher than that in 2016. 

The US ranked as the fourth largest source of Philippine imports, with imports from the US reaching $7.4 billion in 2017. 

US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim earlier announced America ’s commitment to provide emergency relief and recovery assistance to the conflict-affected communities in Marawi City in the amount of $20.90 million (P1.07 billion).

Topics: United States , Philippines , Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III , Jeffrey Gerrish
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