By Minde Nyl R. Dela Cruz, Reporter
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte is set to sign four memoranda of understanding (MoU) with the South Korean government during his first official visit on June 3 to 5.
“There will be an MOU between the Department of Transportation, DoTr, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport of ROK (Republic of Korea) concerning cooperation in the field of transport(ation),” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto C. Abella said in a press briefing on Friday.
“Then also a Memorandum of Understanding on Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the DoST (Department of Science and Technology) and the Ministry of Science and ICT of the Republic of Korea,” he added.
“Third, there’ll also be a loan agreement on the New Cebu International Container Port Project between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Export-Import Bank of Korea. That will be with the DoF.”
“And also a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Trade and Industry, DTI, and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Trade and Economic Cooperation,” Mr. Abella also said.
The undersecretary said this visit was planned ahead following Mr. Duterte’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-In at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in November 2017.
Mr. Duterte is also expected to attend in Seoul the Department of Agriculture’s E-Mart Philippine Food Festival, a business luncheon forum hosted by DTI, and a summit meeting.
“[P]art of the meeting will be (in) reference to the Marawi rehabilitation. Republic of Korea donated US$100,000 to the Philippine Red Cross,” Mr. Abella said.
Mr. Duterte will also meet with the Filipino community in South Korea. Mr. Abella said there are about 68,000 Filipinos there.
For its part, the banana industry has urged the Philippine government to push for tariff reduction on exports to South Korea.
“I hope that they (Philippine government officials) will give important focus on this (tariff) issue,” Stephen A. Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc., said in an interview last Friday.
Mr. Antig said the sector is hopeful that Philippine government representatives would find ways to discuss the issue in a bilateral setting given that its trade with South Korea is anchored on the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-Korea Free Trade Agreement (AKFTA).
Under the AKFTA, bananas are included in the list of “sensitive” commodities that tariff issues cannot be negotiated upon.
“We saw our competitors persuade the country to reduce their tariff (on bananas) to zero…because they have bilateral agreements,” he said.
Latin American country Peru is among those that would have zero tariff by next year, while Vietnam, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Honduras will enjoy zero tariff by 2022.
The Philippines, currently the top banana exporter to South Korea with a 79% share, pays a 30% tariff, according to Mr. Antig.
He pointed out that while the country remains the leading banana source for South Korea, its share has actually gone down from 99.8% in 2012.
South Korea is the Philippine’s third biggest banana market after Japan and China.
Mr. Antig said five representatives of the banana sector have been invited and will be joining the President’s trip. — with a report by Carmelito Q. Francisco