By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Outgoing EU Ambassador Franz Jessen yesterday stressed the importance to conclude and implement the bilateral Philippines-EU free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations to ensure continuity of trade preferences once the EU-GSP Plus privileges currently being enjoyed by the Philippines disappear.
Jessen said this during his final meeting with the press before he heads back to Brussels late this week after serving four years as head of the EU Delegation in the Philippines that saw turbulent relationship with the Duterte government in terms of differences in human rights protection with the administration’s bloody war against illegal drugs.
Jessen noted that since the EU-GSP Plus is a unilateral concession granted by the 28-member EU country economic and political bloc the zero-tariff granted to more than 6,000 product lines or exports from the Philippines.
The Philippines is expected to graduate from the four-year EU-GSP Plus program given its progressive growth in the GDP per capita growth.
Thus, it is important, he said, that the PH-EU FTA must be concluded and implemented as a replacement to continue the trade benefits on a long-term basis.
“That means the FTA should replace the EU-GSP Plus. So, it is important that work to get this replacement in time so the Philippines can continue to benefit from the EU market,” he said.
Jessen also relayed the complications that go with the crafting of the FTA as he urged for political commitments on both sides to finish the negotiations.
“The Philippines is not an easy country to understand, it is very complex,” he added.
“When I came here four years ago I did hope that day that I would be leaving with a signed FTA that’s what happened in Vietnam but I see that it is more complicated here and the hard part of the complication is we do need the political commitment from both sides that we want this to happen, to make progress,” he stressed.
He also urged greater understanding from the top officials from the economic team of the government and for the Philippines to promote this idea more to the EU through greater flow of visits not just from the government but also the private sector and vice-versa.
Jessen, however, foresees the conclusion of the proposed FTA in the future because the benefits of this economic deal are very clear.
“Am not sure when that day will be but am sure it will come at some point in time because the economic rational is so clear,” he added.
He said that the Philippines utilization of the EU-GSP Plus has very high utilization rate at more than 80 percent so far and is expected to further increase this utilization capacity.
Under the EU-GSP Plus program, 6,274 Philippine products enjoy zero-tariff entry to the EU. This is on the condition that the government complies with the 27 core international conventions that cover human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance, among others.
Based on the EU’s 2018 GSP assessment report, which monitored 2016 and 2017 compliance, noted progress in the Philippines’ enforcement of international norms for gender equality, trafficking in persons, labor rights, health, education, social-economic rights, the fight against corruption and protection of the environment.