PH, US resolve trade issues, eye stronger economic ties

MANILA — The Philippine and United States governments jointly announced that huge strides have been made towards resolving bilateral trade issues under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), saying that both parties are committed to enhance economic ties.

This was contained in a joint statement issued by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez on Monday evening here.

In the joint statement, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) recognized the Philippines’ adherence to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, ensuring WTO-consistent valuation on agricultural imports as well as the country’s commitment to fair trade by not launching policies that would restrict or prohibit the entry of US products to the Philippine market.

The USTR also noted that Philippine government’s effort to protect geographical indications (GI).

On the other hand, the Philippine government welcomed the resolution of the issues on market access for its agricultural products such as mango, young green coconuts, and carrageenan, as well as the inclusion of travel goods under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) granted by the US government to the Philippines.

Under the US GSP, some USD1.5 billion worth of Philippine exports to the US entered the market duty-free.

Moving forward, the two governments committed to strengthen bilateral economic relations.

“Both governments agree that enhanced bilateral engagement on trade under the TIFA should include work that yields benefits for agricultural producers, importers, exporters and consumers, and intend to work together in a number of areas,” the joint statement read.

Lighthizer and Lopez stated that the two countries will collaborate on the “development of cold chain requirements and best practices in the Philippines, taking into account international guidelines and codes of practice regarding food hygiene adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission”.

The trade officials said they will involve the private sector in improving the existing cold chain here, while the US government, subject to the availability of its resources, will provide technical assistance to enhance cold chain development and management in the Philippines.

“Both governments agree to continue technical dialogue and policy discussions on the National Retail Payments System (NRPS) and other measures related to electronic payment services, including domestic retail debit and credit electronic payment transactions,” noting the US government’s support to boost the e-commerce in the Philippines.

“Both governments agree to a continued dialogue on priority issues of interest to both countries, including for the Philippines, discussions on seeking relief from U.S. safeguard measures on solar cells and Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum,” it added.

The Philippines and the US likewise committed to collaborate for a work program under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-US TIFA for automotive standard issues.

Meanwhile, during the visit of US President Donald Trump in Manila for the ASEAN Summit, he welcomed the suggestion of the DTI for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the US and the Philippines and considered to explore FTA discussions.

In a text message on Tuesday, Lopez said following his joint statement with the USTR that both governments are planning to launch scoping discussions for an FTA.

However, the USTR has to notify the US Congress before it starts any formal negotiations for a free trade deal with any country.

In 2016, two-way trade between the Philippines and US reached USD27 billion, making the US one of the top trade partners of the Philippines.