GENEVA, Switzerland — Philippines and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries have agreed to push for more trade to improve utilization of the free trade agreement (FTA) stressing the FTA as a tool for economic recovery after the pandemic.
Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo held bilateral meetings with the EFTA Secretariat Deputy Secretary General Franck Buchel on the sidelines of the just concluded 12 World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Meeting here. The Philippines’ bilateral FTA with EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland was enforced in June 2018.
Rodolfo noted that while the Philippines was able to turn around its trade deficit with the EFTA countries since the FTA was implemented, there is still room for improvement as utilization rate of the preferential tariff privileges by exporters has remained low.
During the talks, Rodolfo highlighted the country’s improving utilization rate of the FTA to 31 percent in 2020 from 30 percent in 2019.
“The Philippines remains keen to maximize the benefits of its second bilateral FTA and is exerting utmost efforts in promoting the use of the FTA,” he said noting that that FTA is a critical tool to help PH/EFTA economies to recover and build back better in a post-pandemic scenario.
“There is scope for improvement since the Utilization rate is still low,” said Rodolfo.
Both sides also acknowledged fairly-balanced bilateral trade following the implementation of the FTA. Both sides likewise recognized the need for continuous FTA promo advocacy initiatives and recalled the initiatives done in the past including OCOV Roadshows in Cebu, Davao, and Manila, the 2021 FTA webinar series, and PH-Swiss business forums.
EFTA also appreciated the Philippines’ DTI and Bureau of Customs for the updated customs data on import preference utilization. EFTA positively noted the Philippines’ data contribution in the development of the FTA utilization tool, which has just launched this week.
On the FTA Business Guide/Online Webtool, the EFTA also said it is now working to develop the online webtool business guide. DTI and EFTA will continue working on it, with a target of launching possibly this year, said Rodolfo.
In 2019, the Philippines posted a trade surplus of EUR 40.5 million. Total trade between the Philippines and EFTA likewise increased by 2.40 percent from EUR690 million in 2018 to EUR706 million in 2019.
The trade surplus further grew to EUR 87million in 2020 and EUR 111million in 2021 despite the COVID19 pandemic. Exports to EFTA is similarly in upward trend since the FTA was implemented.
But there was a notable six percent decline in the Philippines’ for FTA eligible exports in the 2019-2020 period and four percent decline in FTA-utilized exports.
With that, Rodolfo said both sides agreed to continue to promote the FTA to encourage trade and investment flows.
Individually, the Philippines top exports to Switzerland in 2020 include vacuum cleaners, electric hairdryers, new pneumatic tyres, electrothermic hairdressing apparatus (excluding hairdryers), prepared or preserved tunas, desiccated coconuts, fans, bed linen cotton, electric conductors for a voltage, and ignition wiring sets used in aircraft or ships
For Norway, the Philippine exports include: pasta (cooked); crisp savoury food products made from a dough; fruit, nuts; biscuits, including “pretzels” and savoury and salted biscuits; miscellaneous edible preparations; malt extract; food preparations of flour, groats, meal, starch or malt extract; prepared foods obtained by the swelling orroasting of cereals or cereal products; soups and broths; homogenised composite food preparation; other food preparations.
For Iceland, there are only two products that Philippines exported in 2020 – snacks, other confectionary not containing cocoa.