The European Union (EU) is seeking to strengthen relations with the Philippines into a more strategically rounded partnership beyond “trade and aid,” a visiting high-ranking EU official said on Wednesday.
In a joint press briefing after a closed-door meeting with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission—Lady Catherine Ashton—stressed the EU’s commitment to pushing regional security particularly for sustained peace in the South China Sea, the Mindanao peace process and development, and more effective disaster risk reduction.
“We want to focus especially on supporting the Philippines in strengthening the rule of law through judicial and legal reform, inclusive growth through access to sustainable energy and of course, job creation,” Ashton said.
Ashton’s first visit to Manila coincides with the 50th Anniversary of PH-EU diplomatic ties, established in 1964, and reaffirms the importance of such relations to the EU.
She welcomed and congratulated the Philippines for pushing for the Peace Process in Mindanao and for the important achievements reached by the agreement.
The EU official also said the work that both countries can do together in dealing with natural disasters will have an impact that may be broader than just on this part of the world, “because it enables us to think about how to work together to enhance cooperation with the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre on disaster management and emergency response.”
Finally, as you said, we have also discussed the situation in the region, including maritime issues. Let me stress that the European Union encourages all parties to seek peaceful solutions, through dialogue and cooperation, in accordance with international law —in particular with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“The European Union is proud to be a part of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and we recall its fundamental principles, namely to settle differences by peaceful means, to renounce the threat or use of force and to effectively cooperate among partners,” she said.
Other areas of cooperation
Ashton also cited other new areas of cooperation such as the EU support for the Center of Excellence for Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear risk mitigation opened in Manila last year and which is now fully operational.
“This Center of Excellence now runs activities on bio safety, nuclear safety and emergency planning. This is an important new way in which we collaborate,” she said.
Sec. Del Rosario said both countries agreed to further boost their economic relations, “noting that now is the best time for European businesses to invest in the Philippines in view of our relatively high growth rate, the upgrades by rating agencies and good governance policies of the President.”
Del Rosario also thanked the EU for granting Manila a six-month extension to allow the Philippines to fully carry out various measures and reforms to fully meet its obligation under the Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers, as amended (in the STCW Convention), thus averting the loss of jobs for some 82,000 Filipinos aboard EU-flagged vessels. He cited the “the importance of seafaring and fisheries to the country.
“In our application to the GSP+ scheme of the EU, I noted that this has been approved by the European Commission and that the application has now been transmitted to the European Council and, thereafter, the European Parliament for their respective deliberation and approval,” Del Rosario said.
The Philippines anticipates the approval and acceptance of its application as a GSP+ beneficiary country of the EU in the next few months. Approval is expected to result in further expansion of PH exports to the EU and a substantial generation of employment in the country.
There are more than 700,000 Filipinos in EU member states, most of whom are in Italy and in the UK. Total trade between the Philippines and EU reached US$12.429 billion in 2013.
The European Union is the biggest investor in the Philippines, with 7.5 billion euros placed in the country, equivalent to 30 percent of all foreign investment here, and which generates more than 400,000 jobs. The EU is the Philippines´ third largest trading partner with total exchanges reaching 11 billion euros last year.
The EU has more than doubled its bilateral assistance to the Philippines to about 325 million euros for the next six years, Ashton said.