By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

A EUROPEAN investors’ group wants a revival of free trade talks between the Philippines and the European Union (EU) to expand local exports to the 27-nation union.

“I think that we need seriously to move forward with a free trade (deal) between Europe and the Philippines,” European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) President Lars Wittig said in a virtual interview last week.

“The time is right to move forward and get that trade agreement in place. We just have too much to gain not to do it.”

The first round of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations between the Philippines and the EU was held in May 2016. Talks have since stalled, and an EU-ASEAN business sentiment survey in 2019 found that the business sector’s enthusiasm on the potential trade deal had waned.

Mr. Wittig said smaller domestic manufacturers in the provinces would benefit from reduced trade barriers, especially companies that are not in export development zones.

“Also, when you look at where the shortages are in Europe — skills, people, human capital and so on — there are many things where we could benefit and vice versa,” he said.

“In order to actually avail ourselves of free trade, we need to adapt to certain practices in order to do so. There has to be this exchange of know-how and technology. And we want to get as much of that out here impressed upon the businesses and the employees.”

In the meantime, Mr. Wittig said he finds trade perks under the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) to be comprehensive. Under the GSP+, many Philippine products enjoy duty-free access to the EU market.

The EU has free trade deals with two Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Singapore and Vietnam.

The ECCP represents companies that are mostly in the outsourcing, food and beverage, manpower, and pharmaceutical sectors. Mr. Wittig said there is still growing interest in the Philippines from the transport, telecommunications and green energy industries.

The ECCP is one of several business groups in the Philippines that have been backing several bills that will open up the country to more foreign investment.

“(In ASEAN) we are all competing about the same investments. I’m sure we will continue to get a good share of the investments, but we should not settle for a good share in the Philippines. We want to have a giant share,” Mr. Wittig said.