THE Philippines and South Korea have launched negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), officials said.

According to a June 3-dated joint statement issued in Seoul, the two countries agreed to work towards a resolution of talks by November, in time for the 2019 South Korea-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit.

“To this end, both ministers committed to conclude a comprehensive and future-oriented FTA, which will provide for, among others, not only greater market access for goods and services, and improved investment opportunities, but also collaboration in the fields of innovation as well as research and development to foster development of industries of the future,” according to the statement sent to reporters yesterday.

“Through this FTA, the two ministers aim to create more favorable conditions and substantial benefits to exporters, investors, industries, work force, and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) of their two countries,” it added.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said: “For the Philippines, the FTA means we can achieve improved market access for our agriculture products such as banana, pineapple, and mangoes, as well as industrial products and other services. We are working on better reciprocity of tariff rates and market access of our agricultural and industrial products to improve the balance of trade with South Korea,” Mr. Lopez said in a statement Monday.

“These include movement of natural persons and more investment opportunities that could lead to job generation. These also include greater collaboration in innovation, as well as R&D that will support the implementation of our inclusive innovation and industrial strategy,” Mr. Lopez added.

On the sidelines of the launch of the FTA negotiations, the first meeting of the Republic of Korea Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (JCTEC) also took place.

“The JCTEC is equally important as it will tackle a broader perspective of economic cooperation between the two countries,” Mr. Lopez said.

Mr. Lopez is also set to conduct a roundtable meeting with high-level South Korean business executives from various industries such as construction and infrastructure, tool and die makers, and energy to discuss opportunities in locating and expanding their operations in the Philippines.

In 2018, trade between the Philippines and South Koread hit $13.7 billion, making Seoul Manila’s fifth-largest trading partner.

The Philippines’ top exports to South Korea include bananas, pineapples, and copper, while main imports are industrial products.

Investments from South Korea in 2018 totaled $35.79 million, primarily focused on real estate and manufacturing. — Janina C. Lim