THE MANILA TIMES ROUNDTABLE

Chile, Philippines to restart FTA talks

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Areas of interest: natural disaster management, tourism
Chile’s Ambassador to the Philippines Jose Miguel Capdevila is confident that it will just be a matter of time before Manila and Santiago sign a free trade deal (FTA) that will usher in vibrant exchanges of products, investments and people.

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“We see the Philippines as a huge country with 104 million people and bountiful natural resources. We can only look forward to a brighter relationship,” Capdevila said at a roundtable with the editors of The Manila Times on Wednesday.

CHILE’S Ambassador to the Philippines Jose Miguel Capdevila

Chile, the world’s largest producer and exporter of copper, exports world-class wines, copper by-products and fish products, among others, to the Philippines. In exchange, the Philippines ships semi-conductors, industrial electronics, branded clothes and fruits. Trade stands at about $200 million with Chile recording a surplus.

A Philippine company, Energy Development Corp., already has a presence in the Latin American country and Capdevila said Filipino businesses were welcome given the countries’ common interests.

Mining is one and the envoy said this is where Chile can help.

“Our mining industry is one of the safest and environmentally balanced. The Philippines has a potential in mining. We want to exchange views, experiences, and help out in areas necessary to work on,” he said.

Noting environmental concerns over mining in the country, Capdevila said that Chile could offer its experiences with regard to sustainability, pollution and security local support.

He also noted the Philippines’ caps on foreign ownership, which he said could limit investor interest in the country.

Another area for cooperation involves natural calamities as Chile, like the Philippines, is earthquake prone. The 1960 Vaidivia earthquake, in particular, is the most powerful ever recorded, with a resulting tsunami even making it way to the Philippines.

Natural disaster management and cooperation are two areas that Capdevila particularly wants to develop.

“Philippines and Chile experience earthquakes, and tsunamis, events considered as ‘acts of God’. We want to share experiences on how to limit if not avoid casualties and destructions. In tourism, many of our citizens prefer to come to Asia and the Philippines has its natural beauty,” he said, noting that more and more Chileans are vacationing abroad.

Chile’s per capita income – at around $23,000 based on purchasing power parity rates — is the largest in Latin America.

“Chile is a country proud of its stability, excellent institutional handling of the economy, and efficient in governance,” said Capdevilla, whose Manila posting is his first as ambassador in more than 30 years of foreign service.

A letter of intent regarding a possible free trade deal was signed in Manila in November 2015 during a visit by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The Department of Trade and Industry and Chile’s General Directorate for International Economic Relations were ordered to continued discussions.

In 2016, two rounds of talks were conducted and a joint study on the feasibility of an FTA was conducted. With a new government in power, Capdevila said he wanted to restart the process of negotiation leading up to the formal signing of a trade deal.

In Southeast Asia, Chile currently has bilateral FTAs with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

It is also a member of the Pacific Alliance and the ambassador said Asean and the PA were currently working closely in the areas of economic cooperation, education, science and technology and sustainable development.

Capdevila said trade with Asia currently represented over half of Chile’s net exports. Santiago, he added, is working hard to expand the reach and scope of investments in the region.

Exchanges of people are also being explored and Capdevila said a working holidays agreement with Australia could be replicated in the Philippines. This involves six-month work opportunities for students on a break.

Travel, however, could be an issue as getting to Manila currently involves first flying to Sydney from Santiago – a journey of nearly 30 hours.

Filipino workers, however, have already made their way to Chile, mostly as household help. Capdevila said opportunities for professionals could expand with a trade deal.

The envoy admitted that Chile wasn’t particularly on Filipinos’ minds but said the country’s upcoming national day – the 18th of September – could be an opportunity to change this.

He has one request for Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano – to work on the appointment of a Philippine ambassador to Santiago.

“We have had no envoys for one-and-a-half years. I have been an ambassador here for three months. I hope the Philippine ambassador to Chile will be appointed soon,” he said.

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