Formal negotiations for the free trade agreement (FTA) between the Philippines and the European Union (EU) could begin early next year, Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual said on Monday.
The Philippines and EU on Monday announced their intention to explore the relaunch of negotiations for an FTA.
“It will start with the scoping discussion that will start sometime in September and the target is to complete it before the end of the year so that the formal negotiation of the FTA should follow suit. Hopefully by the start of the new calendar year, 2024,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a high-level business event organized by the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) and the Makati Business Club in Makati City.
Mr. Pascual said the Philippines will push for the retention of the preferential treatment that the country has enjoyed under the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) incentive arrangement.
“What we want to happen is that all the preferential treatment we’re getting under GSP+ will be carried over to the FTA so that there will be greater permanence of the preferential treatment that we’re getting now. That’s the minimum we would ask for,” Mr. Pascual said.
Last month, the European Commission proposed to extend the validity of the current EU-GSP regulation, which is set to expire by end-2023, until Dec. 31, 2027.
The proposal still needs the approval of the European Parliament and the European Council.
The Philippines participates in the EU’s GSP+, a special incentive arrangement for low and lower middle-income countries that implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labor rights, environmental protection and good government.
Mr. Pascual expressed confidence the Philippines and the EU will be able to conclude the FTA negotiations by 2025, and still enjoy the benefits of the GSP+ incentive arrangement.
The government has projected that the Philippines would become an upper middle-income country by 2025, making it ineligible to avail the benefits of the GSP+.
“The way that it can work is the moment we achieve being an upper middle-income country, we have three years to stay with the GSP+. It is also possible that we’re enjoying the benefits of the GSP+ and also have an FTA on the other hand. They will run in parallel, and we’ll make the best of the provisions of the two in terms of our trade with EU,” Mr. Pascual said.
Meanwhile, ECCP President Paulo Duarte said the business group is pushing for the “timely and successful conclusion” of the EU-Philippines FTA negotiations.
“Such a deal holds immense potential to spur trade and investment opportunities, improve diversification, increase competitiveness and economic openness, generate better employment prospects, as well as accelerate breakthroughs in innovation and technology,” Mr. Duarte said at the event. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave