President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday pitched a free trade agreement between the Philippines and the European Union to shore up economic recovery following the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his speech at the Commemorative Summit between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union in Belgium, the President said he hopes to see the proposed PH-EU free trade agreement move beyond the negotiation stage.
“I look forward to closer economic cooperation both on our bilateral and bloc-to-bloc relations at this time of economic recovery from the ravages caused by the pandemic and the current threats on the supply chain,” Mr. Marcos said.
“I hope to see the proposed Philippine-EU free trade agreement move beyond scoping negotiations soon. With the entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) among Asia-Pacific countries the European Union misses out on the benefit of having a similar agreement with ASEAN,” he said.
Meanwhile, the President secured various key investment pledges from European businesses in the renewable energy and infrastructure sectors, which are among the key administration’s prioritized agendas.
Acciona, a leading global group in the field of development and sustainable infra-solutions, has given its commitment to investing in the Philippines’ energy sector.
Various Acciona officials spearheaded by their Chairman, Jose Manuel Entrecanales, are also looking at the Philippines, particularly Manila, as their “main hub’ in Southeast Asia.
Earlier, Mr. Marcos said there was a growing need for collaboration between ASEAN and the EU as the world grapples with problems brought about by geopolitical tensions, supply chain disruptions, and rising food prices.
He said ASEAN is well positioned to accelerate intra-regional trade and growth with mega trade deals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The RCEP is a free trade agreement among the Asia-Pacific nations of Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Mr. Marcos also acknowledged in his remarks the EU’s historical importance as a trade and investment partner of ASEAN.
“While an ASEAN-EU FTA (free trade agreement) remains as a common long-term objective, economic cooperation initiatives will be prioritized in areas of mutual interest to bridge the gap and realize this long-term objective,” Marcos said.
President Marcos expressed hope that through the ASEAN-EU Trade and Investment Work Program, the momentum could continue in 2023 and beyond.
Earlier, Mr. Marcos received a commitment of cooperation from European Council President Charles Michel in a wide range of areas, including trade and climate change mitigation.
This came after the two leaders met at the Europa Building, the seat of the European Council and the Council of the European Union, on the sidelines of the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit in Brussels, Belgium.
In their meeting, President Marcos emphasized the vital role of ASEAN countries in the world economy. ASEAN has increased its presence on the global stage through its efforts on regional economic integration and supply chain resilience, he said.
Mr. Marcos also got an added boost of support in the country’s bid to address issues in the Philippines’ seafaring industry, which was one of the top agenda items for the Filipino leader’s visit to Brussels.
The President said the country “will kick the can down the road” to prevent at least 50,000 Filipino seafarers employed by Europe-based
shipping companies from losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, the European Council chief agreed with President Marcos on the need to operationalize the “green fund on climate change” and the damage and loss policy.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was designated as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The GCF aims to encourage the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development by providing support to developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) while at the same time adapting to the effects of climate change,
“We couldn’t agree with you more,” Michel told President Marcos, referring to the Filipino leader’s pitch at the ASEAN-EU working luncheon for more concrete funding guidelines on mitigating climate change damage and loss.
Michel also said the EU is ready to work with the Philippines and ASEAN on climate change, particularly on the transfer of green technology, which involves improving resilience to climate change and reducing GHGs.
In his participation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, last month, President Marcos said the Philippines had prioritized renewable energy options such as hydropower, geothermal power, solar, and other low-emission energy sources.
While in Belgium, Mr. Marcos was granted a royal audience with King Philippe at the Royal Palace of Brussels.
In a social media post, President Marcos said he sought much deeper and strengthened relations with Belgium benefitting the overseas Filipino workers in Belgium.
“A deeper relationship and cooperation on different fields including the advancement of the rights of our OFW’s here in Belgium were the ones which we discussed with his Majesty, King Philippe,” President Marcos said.
Earlier, the President met with the members of the top European businessmen and the Chief Executive Officer of the Brussels Airport, Arnaud Feist.
EU leaders meeting with their counterparts from Southeast Asia are looking to bolster ties in the face of the war in Ukraine and challenges from China.
Europe is keen to boost trade with the ASEAN, which counts some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
“There is a need for Europeans to reconnect with ASEAN, one of the most dynamic areas in the world,” the French presidency said.
The EU has been on a diplomatic push to galvanize a global front against Moscow as its invasion has sent economic and political shock waves around the world.
But ASEAN’s 10 nations have been divided in their response to the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine.
Singapore has gone along with Western sanctions on Russia, while Vietnam and Laos, which have close military ties to Moscow, have remained more neutral.
Along with Thailand, they abstained from a United Nations vote in October condemning Russia’s attempted annexation of regions of Ukraine seized in February.
The diverging views led to intense wrangling over a final declaration from the summit as the EU pushed for stronger language to condemn Moscow.
An EU official said Brussels was satisfied in the end that it sent a “crystal clear message” of the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.
While Europe presses for a tougher response to Russia, there is another global giant looming over the summit.
Chinese claims over the South China Sea have set it against some neighbors and sparked fears in Europe over trade flows through the key global thoroughfare.
But China remains the biggest trade partner for ASEAN and many in the region are wary of distancing themselves from their giant neighbor.
The EU is keen to pitch itself as a reliable partner for Southeast Asia’s dynamic economies amid the growing rivalry between Beijing and Washington.
The EU and ASEAN are each other’s third-largest trading partner and Europe sees the region as a key source for raw materials and wants to increase access to its booming markets.
EU nations are pushing to diversify key supply chains away from China as the war in Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s vulnerabilities.
The EU is set to unveil investments that could be worth 10 billion euros ($10.6 billion) for the region under its Global Gateway strategy designed as a counterweight to China’s largesse.
ASEAN and the EU suspended their push for a joint trade deal over a decade ago and Brussels has focused on striking agreements with individual members.
So far deals with Vietnam and Singapore are in place, but the bloc is keen to make progress with ASEAN’s largest economy Indonesia and to resume talks with Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand.
The crisis in ASEAN member Myanmar will also figure as its regional neighbors have struggled to calm the bloodshed in the junta-ruled country.
But Myanmar will not be represented at the summit as its military rulers were not invited.
One issue that risks clouding discussions is a new law in Indonesia criminalizing sex outside marriage that has sparked fears for foreign visitors to country.
An EU official said the matter would likely be raised with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo.
“I think even from an investment point of view, there are questions as to whether this legislation will encourage further people to visit,” he said. With AFP