PH urged to join TPP free trade talks

by Lois Calderon, ANC

Posted at Feb 22 2013 06:39 PM | Updated as of Feb 23 2013 02:39 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A visiting senior US State Department official has said the Philippines must be willing to negotiate even a politically sensitive issue like foreign ownership limits, if it wants to join the US and 10 other nations in talks aimed at creating an Asia free trade pact.

"Whether that requires changes to your Constitution I can’t  opine but there’s gonna be significant opening up of market once you join TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and that’s tough. That’s why you have negotiations,”US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose W. Fernandez told businessmen in Makati.

Makati Business Club Chairman Ramon del Rosario said the Philippines should make the necessary reforms without delay, and join the negotiations before a deal among the 11 nations is struck. He said the Philippines will lose having a greater voice in the agreement if it joins later.

"At this point you can still participate in drafting what the agreement will consist of because it’s not yet cast in stone. But once the agreement has been firmed up, then you can only participate in whatever it is that they agreed to formulate,” del Rosario said in an interview.

"You can no longer change the agreement. That’s the difference in coming in early and coming in late,” he added.

The MBC supports relaxing foreign ownership limits, either through repeal of existing laws or changing the Philippine Constitution, which puts a 40% cap on foreign ownership in utilities, real estate and natural resources.

The 11 TPP countries - the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand - hope to finish the talks this year.