Belgian Ambassador to Manila Christian Meerschman backed plans to negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between the Philippines and the European Union (EU), which Belgium is a member of.
In a roundtable with The Manila Times last week, the ambassador highlighted the need for an FTA between the 28-member EU and the Philippines, putting aside any hopes of a bilateral free trade agreement between Manila and Brussels. However, Meerschman said there is no need for a PH-Belgium bilateral link in terms of trade and investment because Brussels believed in the “competency” of the European Union to negotiate an FTA with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“We think it is necessary [for the Philippines]to have an FTA with European Union countries. It is good to have FTA but that’s up to you. We [Belgium] are open to it,” he said.
The ambassador likewise emphasized that Belgium and the Philippines already have two agreements that will ease the trade between the two countries—the Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income and in Capital.
Majority of the 10-member Asean is in advanced negotiations with the EU for an FTA, with Thailand to sign the contract within a few months. Although the Philippines would indirectly benefit from a signed FTA between EU and its Asean neighbors, such as importing luxury cars from Thailand without the customary taxes and tariffs, Meerschman noted how helpful it would be for the EU and the Philippines to have their own bilateral FTA.
In March this year, the Philippines and EU agreed to pursue negotiations for an FTA, but analysts said Manila is still lagging far behind major Asean nations, which are set to sign agreements with EU.
Although the Philippines and EU signed a broad partnership and cooperation agreement last year to prepare for the FTA talks and identified six areas that can be liberalized, the business sector in Manila still lamented the rather slow development of the FTA.
Meanwhile, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) has called on the Philippine government to move forward with its FTA negotiation before Asean’s single market economy goes full blast in 2015.
Aside from negotiations for an FTA, Meerschman is also looking forward to a general agreement that will be signed this year in Brussels by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. The agreement, according to the envoy, will enhance trade and cultural relations between Belgium and the Philippines.
Aside from being a major European investor, Belgium is the Philippines’ 18th largest trading partner and the third biggest export destination in the European Union, next only to the Netherlands and Germany. Manila’s exports to Brussels, mostly semiconductors and processed foods, were valued at $639.8 million.