THE Philippines and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are scheduled to sign a Joint Declaration on Cooperation (JDC) during the EFTA Ministerial Meeting scheduled in Iceland on June 23.
“Pursuing a strategic partnership with EFTA is one of the country’s priority trade engagements. Potential exports to EFTA could include products that we are already exporting to the European Union (EU). We are also an ideal processing hub for food exporters like Iceland and Norway,” said Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal Jr.
The JDC seeks to expand trade relations through exchange of views and cooperation in the areas of, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, trade facilitation, intellectual property rights, public procurement, competition and trade and sustainable development.
It also aims to promote private sector cooperation and encourage business contacts. The JDC likewise provides for the establishment of a joint committee allowing the parties to review the areas for cooperation and discuss other issues of mutual interest.
“The JDC is key to identifying areas where we can complement EFTA’s industries with our own areas of strengths and to replicate the model in various applicable sectors. Building on the potential exports to EFTA based on Philippine exports to EU could address concerns on the geographical distance of the market while investments in food processing, shipping and the maritime sectors are also areas to explore,” Cristobal said.
Since 2011, the Philippines and EFTA have been conducting a series of high-level and expert group meetings. Both sides agreed to work towards signing a JDC as an initial step to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations.
EFTA is an inter-governmental organization for the promotion of free trade and economic integration to benefit its four member-states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
In past years, many EFTA-based multinational companies have already set up several joint ventures in the Philippines in electrical equipment, chemicals, industrial machinery, mechanical/engineering industries and drugs/pharmaceuticals sectors.
EFTA has free trade agreements covering 35 countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Central American States (Costa Rica and Panama), Chile, Colombia, Egypt, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Hong Kong-China, Israel, Jordan, South Korea, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Peru, Serbia, Singapore, member-states of Southern African Customs Union, Tunisia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
Negotiations are ongoing with Algeria, India, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia Belarus and Kazakhstan, Thailand and Vietnam. EFTA has concluded Joint Declarations on Cooperation with 17 of its trading partners, including Malaysia, prior to starting or concluding an FTA.
“A consultation with the relevant government agencies and the private sector is critical if we are to pursue an FTA with EFTA. We need to take stock of our capacities as a country, identify non-tariff barriers, and further build our offensive interests,” said Cristobal.
At present, the Philippines has free trade agreements with Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and free trade deals through the Asean with China, Korea, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
In the Asean, the Philippines is consistently ranked 6th with market shares not exceeding 10 percent among the import sources of EFTA within the region.
Also, the Philippines expressed its interest to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement being negotiated by the US and 11 Pacific countries to establish a free trade bloc, which would represent more than half of global output and over 40 percent of world trade.