Brit official goads Philippines on free trade talks with EU

By Jessica Anne D. Hermosa, BusinessWorld

Posted at Jan 13 2011 12:11 AM | Updated as of Jan 13 2011 08:11 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A visiting British state official urged the Philippines yesterday to pick up its pace towards starting free trade talks with the European Union (EU), saying an agreement would boost export sales of all parties involved and also attract more investors into Manila’s public-private partnership projects for infrastructure.

"We would like it to move forward rapidly," Simon Fraser, British Foreign Office permanent undersecretary, told reporters in a briefing at the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Pasay City.

The call comes as formal negotiations have not begun even as both sides have already concluded talks back in June for the Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA), a broader framework deal that was needed to lay the ground for the trade pact.

The PCA may be signed sometime in April or May, British Ambassador Stephen Lille said at the briefing.

The Philippines, for its part, formally informed the EU late last year that it was accepting the Western bloc’s offer for a trade pact, but the Trade department has been mum as to when negotiations will start.

Trade Undersecretary Adrian J. Cristobal, Jr. couldn’t be reached yesterday for comment.

"We are very supportive of this deal at the United Kingdom (UK)," Mr. Fraser said, saying it would "benefit the Philippines" and not just the Western bloc.

Mr. Fraser said he was in Manila as part of a three-country tour which includes China and Japan.

East and South Asia have been tagged as foreign policy priorities under the UK’s new coalition government given the many emerging markets in the region.

The free trade pact was among the issues Mr. Fraser said he discussed with the Foreign Affairs and Finance officials here.

The peace process in Mindanao, streamlining of the Philippines’ customs policies and the Aquino administration’s public-private partnership program to build infrastructure was also taken up, Mr. Fraser said.

"We are very keen to cooperate in this area (infrastructure). We have quite a lot of expertise in this area," he said.

But the Philippine government will have to ensure the business environment is "predictable and stable" first, Mr. Fraser stressed.