South Korea free trade talks seen completed by Sept., signing by Nov.

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Ramon M. Lopez

NEGOTIATIONS for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with South Korea are expected to finish by September in time for possible signing in November, according to Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez.

“September, kasi yung major agreements, anong produkto ang kasama, ilang percent ma-liberalize, tariff reduction program, yung mga basic terms syempre kailangan mag-agree na kayo doon so that you can work on the text, the components,” (The talks are due to wrap up in September because the two sides need to agree on included products, the percentage which will be liberalized, a tariff reduction program, the basic terms — of course you have to agree on that so that you can work on the text, the components) Mr. Lopez told reporters Thursday during the Philippines-Korea Business Forum organized by Korean Importers Association (KOIMA) at the Conrad Manila.

Asked if it could be signed in time for President Duterte’s visit, he said, “That’s the target nga, November. So that should be the highlight of the visit as well, that there’s a new FTA. The original intention is for us to really have better tariff rates sa (on) banana.”

The Philippines and South Korea mark the 70th year of diplomatic relations this year.

The Philippines is seeking lower tariffs for agricultural products like bananas, pineapple and mango as well as processed food, industrial products and auto parts. South Korea on the other hand is pushing for more leeway to ship in auto-related products.

The Philippines is hoping to get tariffs for bananas to be reduced to around 5% from 30% currently, amid stiff competition from other suppliers like Ecuador.

Di naman kailangan zero, I think i-match lang (It doesn’t have to be zero, I think we’ll be happy to match the rates for other countries)… A single-digit rate… in the vicinity of 5% (will suffice),” he said.

Mr. Lopez also said that to reciprocate, import tariffs on South Korean fruits like strawberries and pears could be lowered to 5% as well.

FTA talks started earlier this month.

In 2018, imports from South Korea were valued at $10.55 billion, while the exports were worth $2.54 billion. — Katrina T. Mina