Norway and Switzerland are optimistic that economic ties between the Philippines and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) will be strengthened after the Senate ratified a free trade agreement.
This came after Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez hailed the ratification on Monday, saying the FTA “is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s strategy of pursuing trade relations with non-traditional [and]high-potential trade partners.”
“With this ratification, the Philippines will benefit from expanded trade engagements with non-European Union members, even as it gives us greater access to the European market,” he added.
In a joint statement on Thursday, Norwegian Ambassador Eric Forner and Swiss Ambassador Andrea Reichlin also lauded the move.
“This agreement is beneficial to both parties, and will encourage…cross-border trade,” Forner said.
“[The] FTA provides entrepreneurial incentives, as well as the highest political commitment to move forward in the best interest of [their]respective citizens and in managing global commerce,” Reichlin said.
Under the pact, the Philippines will not only have duty-free market access to Norway and Switzerland, but also to fellow EFTA member-states Iceland and Liechtenstein.
It will also be able to trade products and services with, as well facilitate investments from those countries.
The Philippines will also get tax incentives on agricultural products, particularly those exported to the European bloc.
These include desiccated coconut, prepared or preserved pineapples, and raw cane sugar.
In return, the country will also grant EFTA the same access to most of its industrial and fish items, as well as temperate fruits, mineral and aerated water, food preparations, chocolate, cheese, and wine.
The agreement will also welcome investments in renewable energy (RE), information technology and business process management, construction, environmental services, maritime transport, and finance.
Highly skilled Filipino workers can enter the EFTA region more easily under the deal.
It will allow executives, managers and specialists, business visitors, contractual service suppliers, and machine installers to stay temporarily in those countries without taking an economic needs test.
Norway is upbeat that it will “trade goods and services in a number of areas, such as fisheries, seafaring, maritime transport, energy” and financial services, Forner said.
Switzerland is eager to collaborate with the Philippines on “clean technology, pharmaceuticals, RE, and precision engineering, among other sectors,” Reichlin said.
Sen. Loren Legarda, sponsor of Senate Resolution 647 that concurred with President Duterte’s ratification of the FTA last December 8, said the deal would give the country a “stronger foothold in the European market.”
The Senate approved the resolution with 19 votes and without negative votes or abstention.
The FTA will take effect three months after the Philippines and at least one EFTA member-state ratify it.
The pact is the country’s second, after the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement in 2008.
with ANNA LEAH E. GONZALES