IPEF discussions sidelined GSP, US-PH FTA talks

The Indo Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) is seen relegating to the sidelines discussions on the renewal of the US-Generalized System of Preference (GSP) and the proposed bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with the Philippines as the Biden administration is looking toward a “bigger picture” in the ASEAN region.

This was the gist of the statement by Philippine Ambassador to the US Amb. Jose Manuel Romualdez during a press conference in Makati for the US-Philippines Society (USPS) members’ meeting with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

According to Romualdez, there have been delays in the US-GSP renewal and the proposed bilateral FTA between the US and Philippines as the focus of the Biden administration is towards a bigger picture: the IPEF.

“That is what really the United States is doing as far as trade is concerned, to look at the big picture. And the big picture is the new Indo Pacific Economic Framework,” he said.

“There has been some movements on that direction but unfortunately because of a lot of developments, especially on the new Indo Pacific Economic Framework, which basically touches on a lot of the trade issues surrounding the ASEAN region, there is that delay on specific GSP issues,” he said.

In fact, he said, the US Trade Representative has set out a couple of meetings in the ASEAN region on how to proceed with the IPEF, which covers the entire region. The Philippines is among the first to to join IPEF during a meeting in Japan last year.

Despite the US’ concentration on IPEF, Romualdez said that ASEAN countries, particularly Thailand and Vietnam which are mostly beneficiaries of the US-GSP, are working closely to push for the renewal of the GSP by the US Congress.

Romualdez further said that the US-GSP, which grants zero to preferential tariff on specific exports to the US from beneficiary countries, should be a specific issue and apart from the IPEF.

Aside from the US-GSP, the IPEF discussion has also relegated the discussion on bilateral FTA between the US and the Philippines. “That again is another different kind of a situation where free trade will obviously specifically agree on one country,” he said.

“And that's why because of this Indo Pacific Economic Framework, again, the United States wants us to be able to cope. They want to be over the ASEAN region,” he said.

Romualdez said the US concentration now is to have more economic activity with the entire region, all 10 members of ASEAN.

He surmised that the US may be considering for an FTA with with the whole of ASEAN.

Meanwhile, USPS President John Negroponte said there remains good prospects as the US will have a new Congress this month.

Negroponte, a former US ambassador to the Philippines, expressed optimism for more economic activities around the world after the long and dark pandemic period.

He pointed to an “auspicious” period within which both countries should expand economic activities. He said the Society is looking forward to future US investments in the Philippines.

He shared that their meeting with President Marcos only concludes that “this is a very auspicious time for US relations, both politically and economically.”