By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which is composed of four wealthy nations – Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland – will be conducting a series of technical roadshows in the country to take advantage of the Philippines-EFTA comprehensive free trade agreement.
Norwegian Ambassador Bjorn Staurset Jahnsen told Manila Bulletin Business at the Nordic Ambassadors’ Luncheon that a technical team from EFTA countries will be arriving in November this year to conduct roadshows in the country, including Davao and Cebu, as part of its information drive to ensure that Filipino businesses take advantage of the trade deal.
Jahnsen explained the EFTA is sending a technical team to discuss issues such as Customs procedures, phystosanitary rules and export processes when Filipino businesses trade with EFTA countries.
It could be recalled that there were delays in the implementation of the agreement because of internal procedures on the part of the Philippines that need to be corrected.
The FTA with EFTA is the Philippines second bilateral trade deal after the Philippines Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. It was ratified by the Senate in March this year and was supposed to take effect in June 1 this year.
The trade deal will allow duty-free market access between the Philippines and the EFTA-member states to trade products and services and facilitate investments.
“With the recently ratified free trade agreement between Norway and the other countries in EFTA and the Philippines, your country has become even more attractive to Norwegian companies,” said the ambassador.
With the trade deal, EFTA countries can use the Philippines as its launch pad to the 10 ASEAN countries as these small but technologically advanced nations considered this region a most important market.
“We hope to intensify trade in goods and services in a number of areas such as fisheries, seafaring, maritime transport, energy as well as financial services in the Philippines,” Jahnsen said.
While it is still early to tell the impact of both countries economic relations from EFTA, Jahnsen cited the great promise the deal is expected to bring to both trade partners.
Jahnsen, who just arrived two weeks ago to his new post in Manila, cited the long history of bilateral relations between Norway and the Philippines, with a strong focus on the maritime sector.
“We also have important investments in the energy sector in the Philippines, and the Norwegian government pension fund has invested in the Filipino bond and stock markets. The Philippine Norway Business Council has 50 members,” he said.
“Our trade relations are strong,” Jahnsen added.
In 2017, exports from the Philippines to Norway amounted to $43 million, while exports from Norway reached $56 million. Among the Nordic countries, Norway is one of the major sources of foreign investments, or about $1.7 billion in total. This includes equity investments worth $712 million, and fixed income worth $707 million made through the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global.
“These substantial investments only showed how confident Norway is in the Philippines’ economic performance,” the ambassador said as he cited sustained average GDP growth of 6.3 percent from 2010 to 2016, surpassing the growth of neighbors in Asia and the ASEAN region.