• UK to ink free trade with PH, 40 others

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    The Philippines is one of the 40 countries the United Kingdom (UK) is eyeing to boost business engagements through individual free trade agreements (FTAs) after exiting from the European Union (EU).

    “The UK, the country right now is working on a list of countries which results to the biggest economies while working its way through this [Brexit],” Asif A. Ahmad, British ambassador to the Philippines, told reporters on Tuesday.

    “The Philippines is part of the emerging powers. And then we have to begin an individual FTA with these countries,” Ahmad said. He did not elaborate on specific time frames.

    “The Philippines will be one of the top 40 countries where we will step up our engagement.

    So there is a natural connection of what [has been]made, but obviously, when we were drawing up our list of countries beyond United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the other EU countries, etc., and Japan . . . countries that would be the natural place that we’ll engage with,” he added.

    The UK will likely initiative bilateral FTAs with countries that have existing FTAs with the EU.

    “In my view, the easiest transition to make is where there is pre-existing FTA with the EU.

    It’s easier to translate that into a bilateral with the UK. It gets increasingly more difficult if you go for a country where there are zero arrangement starting from day one.”

    The ambassador said the effects of the Brexit on Philippines-UK trade is “negligible,” given the mutual agreement forged between the two countries by virtue of the EU.

    Asked if the Philippines will still be able to enjoy the same preferential arrangements with the UK as the EU-Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), Ahmad noted only time will tell.

    “It’s premature to say. Given the GSP+ arrangement is under the WTO [World Trade Organization] rules, and we are a member of the WTO . . . we have the option of carrying over. But no one really has ever talked . . . that far. I can’t imagine that we’d be making abrupt decisions.

    “The fundamental reason for offering the Philippines a special treatment hasn’t gone away.

    We see that exporting and engagements with the world will improve lives here in the Philippines, overall. The Philippines is a stronger economic trading partner,” the British ambassador added.

    The EU-GSP+ allowed developing country exporters to ship good at reduced or even at zero duty to the EU. The Philippines got preferred country status in December 2014.

    Under the EU-GSP+, the Philippines can export 6,274 eligible products duty-free to the EU market.

    Before that, the Philippines was under the regular EU-GSP with zero duty on 2,442 products and reduced tariffs on 3,767 products.

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