THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is pushing for a June conclusion to negotiations for a free trade agreement with South Korea, which would give the Philippines sufficient time to complete its domestic approval process before national elections next year.

Trade representatives from the Philippines and South Korea will meet in the first half of April to address remaining issues on the market access for goods, Trade Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said in an online news conference last week.

“On the Philippine side, our aim is to be able to conclude discussions and resolve all divergent issues by end of June this year,” he said.

The countries failed to sign a deal at the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in 2019. Talks had stalled on items like bananas, for which Philippine producers are seeking lower tariffs, and South Korean auto exports, for which Seoul is seeking greater access.

Mr. Rodolfo added that the pandemic and the absence of a chief negotiator on the South Korean side for some time had further delayed talks last year.

He said that the Philippine side is hoping for conclusion to talks soon, as legal review and executive concurrence from the President will take several months. 

“Next year, ipe-present sa Congress. By that time, election na so parang ang hirap na mapa-approve so para sa atin sana we would like to have it soon (It should go before Congress by next year, before the election, which could make approval difficult. Which is why we are pushing for a deal soon),” he said.

The Philippines is also starting informal talks with members of a transpacific trade deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, as part of the process of indicating interest to join the agreement.

The Trade department is also in talks with India, Chile, Pakistan, and Turkey for potential preferential trade agreements. — Jenina P. Ibañez