WHILE some Philippine products already enjoy duty-free entry to the United States, Manila remains interested in negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with Washington, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Tuesday.
Chances of securing an FTA with one of the country’s largest trading partners have vastly improved with the Trump administration preferring to negotiate bilateral, instead of regional, trade deals, the Cabinet official told reporters at the sidelines of the general membership meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) in Makati City.
“We have the GSP right now with the US, [but]if ever there will be some initiatives to work on with the FTA, we’re open to push through with that,” Lopez said.
Lopez was referring to the generalized system of preferences or GSP scheme that allows some products from developing countries to enter the US duty-free.
The Philippines was the fifth largest user of US GSP privileges in 2015, exporting $1.4 billion worth of goods under the scheme, equivalent to 13 percent of the country’s exports to the US. Philippine goods listed under the GSP scheme include insulated beverage bags, tires and telescopic sights.
An FTA with the US will significantly expand the market for Philippine-made goods, but the Arroyo and Aquino governments failed to secure one under the Obama administration despite intense lobbying in Washington.
Lopez said the Philippines would explore a bilateral FTA with the US even as it would prioritize ongoing trade deals.
Lopez said the government has a plateful of existing and ongoing FTA negotiations like that with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional trade partners, the European Free Trade Association, and Russia.
“These are our priorities, our pending FTA negotiations. We can say the US would be in the exploratory stage, we are open,” he said.
Trade with the US went down last year. Philippine exports to the US declined by 4 percent to $8.6 billion in 2016, while imports slid by 3.3 percent to $7.2 billion.
Exports to the US accounted for 15.4 percent of total outbound shipments. Imports meanwhile accounted for 8.9 percent of the total.