EUROPEAN BUSINESSES want free trade agreement (FTA) discussions between the European Union (EU) and the Philippines to resume within the year, a business council official said.

“I hope they can announce the recommencement this year. I think it is very important. Europe is lagging behind other partners of Southeast Asia in terms of FTAs. We need to do more negotiations,” European Union-ASEAN Business Council (EU-ABC) Executive Director Chris Humphrey said on the sidelines of a briefing in Makati City last week.

“I think FTA negotiations with the Philippines would progress more quickly and will stand a chance of being done relatively fast, which means probably in a three-year timeline,” he added.

The last round of negotiations for the proposed FTA between the Philippines and EU was conducted in 2017. Discussions officially started in 2016.

According to Mr. Humphrey, an FTA is needed as the Philippines continues on its growth path, which could potentially make the country ineligible for the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade scheme aimed at developing countries.

“As you do progress economically, the GSP+ will go at some point. You need the FTA in place to enable you to keep trading with Europe and get more investment from Europe. When the talks were running a few years ago, progress was being made,” Mr. Humphrey said.

The GSP+, set to expire by the end of the year, offers zero tariffs on 6,274 products, equivalent to 66% of all EU tariff lines. The Philippines has been pushing for the renewal of its GSP+ eligibility.   

The top Philippine GSP+ exports include crude coconut oil, vacuum cleaners, prepared or preserved tuna, and electro-thermic hair dressing apparatus.

Mr. Humphrey said industries that could benefit from an FTA include manufacturing and agriculture, while European businesses set to benefit include those in renewable energy and autos, including electric vehicles.

“The FTA will open up the Philippines to the world’s largest economy, particularly for your agricultural products as well. You are suddenly going to have a market of 600 million plus people that you can access in Europe,” he added. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave