THE Philippines and the United States may start next year initial talks for a free trade agreement (FTA), in the form of a “scoping exercise” to determine the extent of the future talks’ coverage.
Asked for updates when Manila and Washington can start preliminary talks, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, in a mobile message last week, said: “Considering the ongoing activities, this may start next year.”
While dealing with a mounting trade dispute with China, the US has been aggressive in working to secure bilateral deals with other countries and upgrading trade relations with other partners as well.
Mr. Lopez met with Deputy US Trade Representative for Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Industrial Competitiveness, Jeffrey D. Gerrish, at the 26th annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
Manila and Washington recently announced the resolution of long-standing issues in their Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which allows both sides to make progress towards an FTA..
The issues involve customs valuation, intellectual property rights, market access for Philippine agricultural products in the United States, and international standards in automotive safety and food hygiene.
The Philippines and the US also moved forward from technical and policy dialogues on the National Retail Payments System and other measures related to electronic payment services, including domestic retail debit and credit electronic payment transactions.
Meanwhile, developments include the official inclusion of travel goods in the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Program last year.
Priority issues such as the Philippine request for exemption from the US safeguard measures on solar cells and tariffs on steel and aluminum will continue to be discussed.
Bilateral trade between the two countries was $27 billion in 2016, of which merchandise goods accounted for $18 billion and services close to $9 billion.
The Philippines is also a beneficiary of the US GSP covering over 3,000 products, whose GSP status is reviewed every three years. GSP items enjoy duty-free access to the US. About $1.5 billion worth of Philippine goods enter the US at zero tariff.
Meanwhile, two-way investments are estimated at around $7 billion. — Janina C. Lim