THE PHILIPPINES is starting informal talks with members of a transpacific trade deal as part of the process of indicating interest to join the agreement.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez last month wrote to the New Zealand government, the depositary of the agreement, that the Philippines plans to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

In this letter, he inquired about the process encouraging economies that want to join the deal, which involves starting informal talks with all member countries prior to submitting a formal request.

The Philippines is discussing the market access priorities of the 11 economies that signed the trade pact: Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

“Critical sa atin (for us) is to engage the CPTPP members that are currently not a partner of the Philippines in any FTA (free trade agreement). Second, securing the full support of the CPTPP members which are currently partners of the Philippines,” Trade Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said in an online news conference Thursday.

The Philippines has a bilateral FTA with Japan, and it is part of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA and the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement.

Mr. Rodolfo said some Philippine exports could benefit from the agreement, including automotive parts, raw and processed agricultural products, and garments exports to the Americas.

The Philippines could export more canned tuna and sardines as well as plant-based meat alternatives to Chile, Mexico, and Canada, he added.

Malayo kasi itong mga lugar na ito so kailangan masolusyunan natin ‘yung logistics (the distance of these markets means we need to firm up the logistics),” he said, noting that shipping raw agricultural goods to the Americas will be challenging.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said last year that China is “actively considering” joining the pact, while the UK at the end of January said that it will ask to join the free trade area and start negotiations this year.

The US under former President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal’s earlier version in 2017. Under the Biden administration, newly confirmed US Trade Representative Katherine Tai at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee said that the “basic formula” of the original proposed deal is sound, but noted that much has changed since the earlier negotiations.

Trade department started studying potentially joining CPTPP after the November signing of another trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Mr. Rodolfo has said that the department can now devote its resources to new trade deals after years of negotiations for the 15-country agreement. — Jenina P. Ibañez