THE trade department hopes to conclude negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea by the time South Korea’s president pays a state visit, trade secretary Ramon M. Lopez told reporters last Monday.

“Hopefully we finish Korea (FTA talks) after April. ’Yun ’yungnext target (that is the next target): before the visit of the Korean president here,” he said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to pay a state visit to the Philippines after the countries failed to sign an FTA at the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit.

Negotiations stalled last year as the countries have not agreed on reduced tariffs for Philippine banana exports and South Korean auto exports.

Both countries have since replaced their negotiating teams, with the Philippine team now led by trade undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo.

He said the two countries had mutually agreed to establish new teams, in hopes that talks will expand beyond tariff reduction.

“Hopefully, mag-agree na on certain terms na hindi lang ’yung tariff ‘yung pinag-uusapan — ‘yung future investment, innovation, ’yung mga gusto nating ipasok(I hope we reach agreements beyond tariffs and proceed to future investment and innovation),” Mr. Lopez said.

Mr. Lopez said issues on the banana and auto trade are “being worked out.”

Hindi ko pa masabi na 100% pero getting there, nag-improve na from before (I can’t say everything has been resolved, but it has improved from where we were previously),” he said.

South Korea is one of the Philippines’ largest trading partners, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. It is the Philippines’ sixth-largest export destination in 2019 at $3.2 billion accounting for 4.6% of the value of total Philippine exports.

South Korea is the Philippines’ third-largest import source at $8.2 billion, accounting for 7.7% of the value of total Philippine imports. — Jenina P. Ibañez