Free trade pact with US being considered — Roque

By Genalyn Kabiling

The Philippines is considering a possible free trade pact with the United States "not as a knee-jerk reaction" to the trade war between the US and China, Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque pointed out that the proposed free trade agreement with the US has been explored long before the trade spat between the world's two largest economies.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque speaks during a press briefing at the New Executive Building in Malacanang, Friday. (CAMILLE ANTE / MANILA BULLETIN) Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque 

"I don’t think it’s really a directive to fast track. It’s just that it’s something that has always been there. It’s something that we demanded, in fact, early on," Roque said during a Palace press briefing.

"If the US was offering it to countries like Vietnam, which at some point was their enemy, why couldn’t they offer the same to us, given that we’ve always been their friend so it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to the trade war," he added.

Roque expressed hope that any possible trade pact between the Philippines and the United Nations would provide equal benefits for the two nations.

"We want to be in a position of equality that we will not just be market for US goods, that we will also be able to export our goods to the United States," he said.

The country raised the possibility of a bilateral free trade pact with the US during President Duterte's meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a regional summit in Manila last November Trump reportedly declared the US was open to trade but wanted fair and reciprocal trade with its strategic partner.

Fresh discussions on the proposed Philippines-US trade pact were reportedly held as the biggest trade war between the US and China started.

The Trump administration has imposed steep tariffs on more than 800 Chinese products in an attempt to compel China to abandon alleged unfair practices such as stealing US technology.

Beijing has denied the charges and instead implemented similar heavy tariffs on American goods.

Roque assured that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was studying measures to minimize the impact of the trade war on local businesses. He said the trade department was identifying which export products could be vulnerable to the US-China trade conflict.

"There are some products we export to China, which in turn are further re-exported to China so in that sense, there will be some effect on us," he said.

"But we are of course studying and preparing for eventualities and we are hoping of course that the trade regime under the WTO (World Trade Organization) will be made to prevail. Because all these tariff war actually is subject to arbitration before the WTO dispute settlement procedure," he said.