Pascual to pursue FTAs with Latin American countries

Aside from the EU and the US, the Department of Trade and Industry will pursue discussions for bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with Latin American countries Chile, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina to widen the reach of Philippine exports.

Trad and Industry Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual told reporters the need to pursue more FTA talks to help improve the country’s exports.

“We should start looking at South America like Argentina, the bigger ones Brazil, Chile, and Mexico of Central America,” he said.

“Those are the ones that we can open. They will open their market to us and our market to them,” said Pascual noted that these countries can complement their exports. “It will be a good match,” he said.

He noted that the Philippines has a long trade relations history with Mexico that dates back to the Galleon trade.

For Chile, the DTI has already an existing Memorandum of Understanding creating the Joint Economic Commission. “We will pursue that,” he added.

In pushing for more FTAs, Pascual noted that other countries in ASEAN have been able to forge more FTA deals than the Philippines. Forging various FTAs have been considered a strategy to the fast-growing exports of other countries.

“They all have many more FTAs than us. They’re doing much better than us in their economic development, in their import volume, in their foreign direct investments,” Pascual noted.

Pascual added that countries that are more open in their economies are growing faster and are attracting more investments and creating more jobs.

At present, the Philippines has only two bilateral FTAs with Japan and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). EFTA is a regional trade organization and free trade area consisting of four European states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Other preferential trading arrangements of the Philippines are through the regional grouping of ASEAN and its partner countries.

With only two bilateral FTAs, Pascual stressed the need for the government to finalize its bilateral FTA with Korea. Hopefully, the trade deal would be approved in the first quarter of 2023.

Likewise, Pascual said that he met with the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai during a recent meeting in Bangkok where Pascual reiterated the position of the DTI to start discussion for a formal FTA with the US. It could be recalled that then US President Donald Trump signaled the start of FTA talks with the Philippines when he visited in Manila for the 31ST ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings in Nov. 2018.

At present, the Philippines enjoys preferential free trade with the US through the US-Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). But an FTA could provide a more stable and long-term trade relations between the two countries.

In addition, Pascual has met with EU Commission officials to push for resumption of bilateral FTA talks.

Once the Senate concurs the executive ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation, Pascual said the Philippines will enjoy greater market access to member countries.