THE German government said Thursday that it has concerns about the Philippines’ compliance with the terms of its continued participation in a European Union (EU) preferential trade arrangement.

“Concerns are not a bad thing in itself… It has been known, we have never been unclear about that we do have worries about the state of certain issues going on in this country, but this is to say not that this is the only thing we are focusing on. It’s among many things that we talk regularly about with Filipino government representatives,” Roland Schissau, the German Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires told reporters at a briefing Thursday for the Mabuhay Germany business event this year.

He declined to elaborate, adding that discussions to resolve the issues are ongoing in their “dense and good-spirited conversations with the government.”

Under the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+), 6,274 Philippine products enjoy zero-tariff entry to the EU on the condition that the government signs on to 27 core international conventions that cover human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance, among others.

The EU’s 2018 GSP assessment report, which monitored 2016 and 2017 compliance, noted progress in the Philippines’ enforcement of international norms for gender equality, trafficking in persons, labor rights, health, education, social-economic rights, the fight against corruption and protection of the environment.

However, extrajudicial killings arising from the government’s war on illegal drugs was flagged “a serious concern,” as well as the proposals to reintroduce the death penalty and the lower the age of criminal responsibility.

Ceferino S. Rodolfo, Undersecretary for the Trade department’s Industry Development and Trade Promotion Group, has said that previous concerns were raised again at the third EU-GSP+ Monitoring Mission in late 2018 but expressed confidence that the country will receive a positive assessment overall.

The German embassy’s Mr. Schissau also touted the benefits of an integrated market under a free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), although he said such a deal may take a while with both sides not moving quickly to further trade talks.

“The European Union has one big advantage for us which is that we have a fully harmonized market for 28 member countries. The ASEAN economic community though in place already a few years is not yet there. I think it has harmonized only around 90%. So to gain the best advantage for all involved would, in our opinion, would be having an EU-ASEAN free trade agreement,” Mr. Schissau said.

“These things do take time with decision making a bit slow on both sides,” he added.

Negotiations for the region-to-region FTA were launched in 2007 but paused in 2009 when EU members agreed to deal with individual ASEAN countries bilaterally.

The EU concluded its first FTA with an ASEAN country, selecting Singapore, and a deal is set to be in force soon. Vietnam is expected to follow with a trade and investment agreement now under the EU Council’s review.

The European Commission (EC), in its March 2019 schedule of trade negotiations, set a date with Indonesia while noting the need for further talks with Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.

As for the Philippines, the EC had said it is focused on the government’s implementation of commitments in relation to the GSP+.

The next GSP monitoring report is due for release early next year. — Janina C. Lim