MANILA and Washington could forge a free trade agreement (FTA) within two years amid delays in talks, an officer of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) said late last week.

The Philippine Trade department had said in November 2018 that talks on the FTA’s scope could start this year.

But AmCham Executive Director Ebb Hinchliffe told reporters on Thursday that Washington is not likely to consider new agreements while its trade deals with Mexico and Canada await approval by US lawmakers.

At the same time, he said: “I would confidently state there will be free trade agreement between the US and the Philippines coming. I hope it would be some time in 2020, but it could be as late as 2021.”

“When they start the negotiations, it will take a couple of years. But the trade agreement between the US and the Philippines will not take a long time. We are common partners, we know each other very well, we know our needs and wants very well… once these trade agreement talks begin, it should not take a very long time.”

Mr. Hinchliffe added that free trade agreements are not a popular topic during an election year, but “basic agreements can get started” in 2020.

The US will hold its presidential elections in November 2020.

“AmCham will continue to push this. We believe strongly it will be a big advantage to have a free trade agreement, so we’re excited to do that,” he said. — J. P. Ibañez