Thank you, EU!

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WITH all the challenges facing the Philippines in 2014, we should be grateful for the recent grant by the European Union (EU) parliament of GSP+ status to our country. The timing is good and very strategic what with Asean integration targeted to begin in 2015. The act of the EU parliament uniquely positioned the Philippines as the only beneficiary country of the EU GSP+ program in Asean.

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Clearly “with the GSP+ in place, Philippine exporters will have better access and comparative advantage in the EU market.” In turn, “foreign investors are expected to turn their attention to the Philippines and consider the country as their manufacturing hub for the Asean region.” These developments augur well for the Aquino administration and succeeding leaderships for they opens doors to a much bigger single market of 28 countries, 500 million affluent consumers. EU gives premium to building a zone of peace, installing rule of law, promoting two-sided trade (as opposed to one-sided), and nurturing resilient communities.

An American-centric nation like ours will have to start removing its blinders and build diplomacy in strategic manner. Definitely, EU can be a countervailing force in the region, where the rule of law becomes the overarching theme in engagement and where relationships can be among equals. Definitely, the Philippines has a lot more to share with EU historically via Spain; religiously, via Rome and with Filipino professionals working in various industries across the EU, with London being a main destination.

The EU is the largest provider of ODA in the world. Figures published by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) show that the EU institutions and its Member States provided more than half of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2013. This is an increase from €55.3 billion in 2012 to €56.5 billion in 2013, after two consecutive years of decline. EU collective ODA remained at 0.43% of EU gross national income (GNI), the same level as the year before.

The EU is also the world’s biggest trader, accounting for nearly 20 % of global exports and imports. The United States is the EU’s largest trading partner, followed by China, and Russia. Two way trade in goods and services across the Atlantic is worth more than €700 billion annually.

Before the approval of PH’s application for EU GSP+ status, the Philippines was a beneficiary of the regular GSP program covering “6,209 products, with 2,442 products subject to zero duty and the rest, subject to lower tariffs. The EU GSP+ would allow the country to increase its exports to the EU by €611.8 million and create more than 200,000 new jobs in the first three years of implementation of the program,” that is if we are able to move fast, train more and have a laser focused attention in trying to use the benefits for the good of the Filipino business, market and people.

The EU GSP+ ties succeeding administrations and gives Filipinos a level of comfort that no political change can undo. As we were saying to an EU businessman, who has been in the Philippines for over 13 years and loves the country as if he were a true-blooded Filipino, Philippine politics cannot alter any gains from previous leaderships. It has to respond to it and build on the gains because the foreign governments have huge stakes in our economy. It should be a recognition to future political leaders that dropping the ball in transition and in the next years will totally mess up the country and return the Philippines to its dark years. The so-called sweet spot and benefits derived from the GSP+ assure Filipinos of a better tomorrow. Politics will have to yield to the economics and leadership will have to ensure that the economics will allow inclusive growth and not oligarch-led and -dependent growth.

To incumbent EU ambassador Guy Ledoux and his team, a new chapter begins through hardwork and continuous push, from development aid to rights-based policy reform to two-way trade. The tasks will always be daunting when it comes to diplomacy but friendships and shared vision will carry PH-EU relationships years henceforth. Merci!

Christmas allows us to be one family, a unified community with a common future we so desired. It is a season for good cheers, celebration, thanksgiving and hope. It is that time of the year when total peace embraces the world regardless of religious beliefs or political leanings. We just have one world and one country and the challenge indeed is to find that common place where peace works in spite of the differences.

What best to end 2014 but with EU’s gift of true friendship and shared partnership. From the Filipino people to EU, thank you for this seal of approval and leap of faith. Surely, it cannot be claimed by one person alone, but followed through efficiently and effectively can form part of legacy.

To my readers and the Filipino people, Maligayang Pasko!

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