By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
The Philippines expressed optimism to conclude in April this year a much improved offer by South Korea in the proposed bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said that they expect to finish negotiations in April this year before the planned visit of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Lopez said both countries have set April as another target date for the completion of the FTA talks after failing to sign the trade deal during the visit of President Duterte to Korea for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in November last year.
“The Korea negotiations are moving, the terms have also changed and more positive developments,” said Lopez. “Hopefully, we finish Korea in April, before the visit of the Korean president here.”
Among the improved terms is on the country’s banana exports to Korea. “It is almost there but not yet 100 percent done. It is an improvement from before,” he added. The Philippine negotiating team is headed by DTI Undersecretary and Board of Investments Managing Head Rodolfo S. Ceferino.
Negotiators from both countries are also looking at the broader picture, particularly development issues, investments and innovation, not just tariffs.
The signing of the proposed bilateral FTA was delayed as negotiators had difficulties agreeing on the liberalization of agriculture and automobile products.
The Philippines would like Korea to bring its tariff on Philippine agricultural exports, mostly bananas and mangoes, to 5 percent if not zero from the current 30 percent. This rate should put the Philippines at parity with the tariff rates granted by Korea to other banana exporters.
For its part, South Korea negotiators wanted the Philippines to bring down to zero the 5 percent duty on Korean cars to be at par with the ASEAN countries and extend preferential duty treatment for South Korean car parts.
While they had been considering the Korean request on condition that Korean carmakers commit to invest in car manufacturing in the country. However, Korean car companies have remained non-committal on their investment plans for the Philippines.