The PhilippineS and Chile have signed bilateral agreements, including the pursuit of a comprehensive free trade between the two countries.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd and visiting Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed the agreement on Monday, the first full day of her visit.
Bachelet is attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting, which Manila is hosting this week.
She is also in Manila for a state visit ahead of the APEC summit on November 18 and 19.
Bachelet signed the Malacañang guest book before proceeding to an expanded bilateral meeting and state luncheon.
Earlier in the day, the Chilean President laid a wreath at the Rizal national monument in Manila where she was welcomed by deposed president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
At the state luncheon, Bachelet, her delegation, as well as other guests, were served kesong puti (native milk cheese) and fruits, seafood ala Bicol Express, cashew-crusted lapu-lapu fillet and a sampler of native desserts.
One of President Aquino’s sisters, Viel Dee, accompanied her brother at the luncheon.
Aquino and Bachelet signed a letter of intent to undertake a joint study for free trade agreement between the Philippines and Chile and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on disaster risk reduction and management.
The letter of intent signifies the Philippines and Chile’s intent to commence discussions on developing a framework for negotiating a mutually beneficial trade agreement that is flexible and pragmatic as to its depth and scope, which may contribute to an increase in trade, in goods and investments, and the promotion of technical cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
“The President and I had engaging and broad-ranging discussions on the need to strengthen our relationship, and also to explore new opportunities for cooperation,” Aquino said during a joint news conference with Bachelet in Malacanang.
“In the bilateral area, Chile and the Philippines are seeking to promote and diversify trade and because of that we are initiating talks regarding free trade agreement,” Bachelet said.
“In order to take the first step, we sign the letter of intent in which we commit ourselves to conclude a feasibility, joint study to evaluate the potential benefits of a free trade agreement. Our wish is to start negotiation during the first semester of 2016 because we think it would be a good way to commemorate the 70 years of diplomatic relations between both countries,” she explained.
Aquino said the letter of intent “[mandates]the Department of Trade and Industry [DTI] of the Philippines and the General Directorate for International Economic Relations of Chile to continue talks in 2016 and develop a framework for a mutually beneficial trade agreement between our countries.”
The letter of intent was signed by Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo and Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Muñoz.
The DTI reports that the level of trade interchange between the Philippines and Chile stands at about $200 million.
The Philippines exports tropical fruits and other agricultural products, as well as electronics, furniture and handicraft products to Chile, even as Chile supplies the country with copper and wine, principally.
In his speech, Aquino cited in particular a partnership forged between the Energy Development Corporation, and Alterra Power Corporation, a Canadian-based company that has a subsidiary in Chile.
“Exploration in geothermal energy can only redound to the benefit of our two countries by contributing to your energy requirements and enhancing the common body of expertise we share. We are hopeful that this will only encourage more and further business activities between our countries,” Aquino noted.
The other agreement, signed by Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Muñoz and National Disaster Risk Reduction Management head Alexander Pama, was an MOU that aims to strengthen the cooperation between the two countries in disaster risk reduction and management with special emphasis on the process of prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response and rehabilitation.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Philippines and Chile will exchange information on preparedness for earthquakes and tsunamis given both countries’ recent experiences.
An 8.3-magnitude quake hit Chile in September this year, triggering tsunami waves along its shores.
Aquino, meanwhile, took note of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and the “outpouring of sympathy and assistance from Chileans across society.”
“The Philippines likewise displayed its solidarity with Chileans in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in north-central Chile,” he said.
Bachelet thanked Aquino and the Filipinos for “solidarity on our last event and, in that way, we will diminish and prevent the impact caused by natural disasters in our territories and strengthen at the same time the bilateral coordination of humanitarian response.”
“We agree with the Philippines and President Aquino that collaboration is the best way to solve the global challenges such as climate change, the search for sustainable and renewable energy sources, and the protection of the environment including the marine resources,” she said.
The two state leaders also agreed to continue discussions between their respective authorities to fight transnational crime.
“The Philippines and Chile have enjoyed warm relations for almost seventy years: relations founded on a shared history, and commonalities in faith, tradition, culture and values,” Aquino said.
“In particular, Chile and the Philippines have a common experience of facing the challenges of being newly-restored democracies, after our peoples reclaimed their liberties and rebuilt their institutions, toward becoming truly vibrant democracies,” he added.