By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
BUSAN, South Korea — Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-man said President Duterte’s visit here will build a momentum to elevate the relations between the two countries.
Han made the statement ahead of President Duterte’s participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Republic of Korea (ASEAN-ROK) Monday.
In an interview here, Han said Duterte’s upcoming bilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in will help boost the 70-year-old ties between the two countries.
“I strongly believe his (President Duterte) visit to Korea will build a momentum to elevate our relationship in many different sectors,” he said.
Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Noe Wong said the Philippines aims to ink at least three agreements with South Korea during Duterte’s bilateral meeting with Moon. He mentioned that among the topics to be discussed are on education, free trade agreement, or even discussions on fields of fisheries, among others.
According to Han, Duterte and Moon will be talking about pending issues from political, people-to-people, and even enhancing cooperation on military and logistics.
“With our chemistry, we will increase our cooperation in many different sectors,” he said.
“Korea, as a very close ally and as a very close friend of the Philippines, will remain as a true friend to work together,” he added.
Duterte last met with ASEAN leaders and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Bangkok, Thailand earlier this month during the ASEAN Summit where the leaders shared their views on regional and international issues affecting the region and beyond.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said two outcome documents were expected in the upcoming Summit: The ASEAN-ROK Joint Vision Statement for Peace, Prosperity, and Partnership, and the Co-Chairs’ Statement on the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit and these two represent the strong partnership between the ASEAN and ROK.
According to Wong, the issue on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be one of the issues expected to be discussed during the Summit.
“That subject (denuclearization of Korean Peninsula) involves the multilateral arena and the Philippines, being a member of ASEAN, gives an importance to this regional organization,” he said.
“Peace and order situation in the Korean Peninsula is intertwined with other regions, more so with the Southeast Asia. Whatever is happening in the Korean Peninsula will affect us, of course,” he added.
Wong said that the Philippines will support any effort to resolve the issue.
“We are for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And whatever inter-Korean peace efforts are going on, we’ll support that,” he said.
Han said that Duterte expressed support to South Korea’s stance in the issue on the Korean Peninsula.
“President Duterte expressed strong position on our stance to bring peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar also told reporters here that Duterte would be advancing the welfare of Filipinos when talking about peace and stability in the region.
“The interest of the Filipino people ay dadalhin ni Presidente sa (will be raised by the President here in) South Korea and that includes regional security kasi meron na tayong problema sa West Philippine Sea. Hindi naman pwede dagdagan pa yan ng Korean Peninsula (because we already have a problem in the West Philippine Sea. We cannot be worrying about the Korean Peninsula, too),” he said.
Free trade agreement
Meanwhile, Han said he is hoping that the Philippines and South Korea will have a Free Trade Agreement by next year to balance the trade between the two countries and as South Korea moves to strengthen its ties with ASEAN members-states.
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) data showed that volume of trade between the Philippines and South Korea reached US$15.606 billion in 2018, up from the previous year’s USD14.296 billion.
According to Andanar, Philippine exports to Korea reached US$2.5 billion while Korean imports were only at US$ 11 billion.
Banana tariff stalemate
Meanwhile, top banana growers and exporters in the country are calling on both the South Korean and Philippine governments to immediately resolve stalemate on the proposed reduction of tariff rates on banana shipments.
The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association Inc. (PBGEA) urged Manila and Seoul to end the issue of very high import tariffs imposed on Philippine bananas.
The negotiations between the Philippines and Korea have been on a stalemate as Korea insists on greater market access for its automotive exports to the Philippines in exchange for a lower if not zero tariffs for Philippine bananas.
“The negotiations have only started in the second quarter while the tariff rates for our competitors have been getting more and more favorable to our disadvantage,” Stephen Antig, executive director of PBGEA said in a statement on Sunday.
The PBGEA said they hope President Duterte will raise anew the issue on banana import tariffs with South Korea President Moon Jae-in during the bilateral talks, along with other concerns on the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
Duterte first brought up the banana imports issue during his first state visit to Seoul in June 2018.
The initial round of talks on the bilateral FTA was held in June this year with the aim of improving trade and investment activities between the two economies.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) tabled its demand to lower tariffs on agriculture exports.
DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez said South Korean trade officials were amenable to tariffs cut as long as the Philippines lowers import duties on industrial products, especially automotive parts.
The Philippines hopes the FTA will translate to improved market access for its agricultural products such as banana, pineapple, okra, avocado, poultry products, and mango — in exchange for Korea’s industrial goods.
Negotiators are looking at different tariff rate proposals aimed at erasing or at least narrow the trade deficit between the Philippines and South Korea.
They initially looked at a possible conclusion of the talks this month. This may not proceed as planned because of so-called “gaps” in the mutual concessions between the parties.
Banana shipments to South Korean markets are taxed 30 percent. The country’s negotiators want this reduced to at least five percent, if not zero.
South Korea is the country’s third most important banana market, next to China and Japan.
Despite the high import tariff, banana shipments to this East Asian country reached 420,344 metric tons (MT) valued at USD203.69 million last year, from 379,144 MT (USD176.55 million) in 2017.
However, banana growers are worried that share in the South Korean market may be reduced as Central American economies secured trade deals with Seoul that reduced, if not eliminated, tariff on their banana.
South Korea’s trade deal with the five Central American nations took effect in October.
Victor Mercado Jr., PBGEA president, said the Central American bananas have been slowly eroding the market share of the Philippines.
“If this continues any further, the Philippines will not be able to compete,” he added.
For his part, Alberto Bacani, PBGEA chairman, said South Korea should also consider the special relationship with the Philippines “because of historical circumstances, particularly during the Korean War in the 1950s.” (with a report from PNA)