BRUSSELS - The European Commission said on Tuesday the Philippines' human rights record could influence future trade ties, but denied reports that it had suspended free trade negotiations with Manila.
The GUE/NGL left-wing grouping in the European Parliament said on Tuesday it welcomed the Commission's decision to pause the trade talks, referring to two media reports.
But the Commission said there had been no such suspension.
"The negotiations are at a very early stage. The second and latest round took place in February, and for the moment the next round has not been scheduled," a Commission spokesman said. The first round was held last May.
"The EU is involved in almost 20 trade negotiations, not all of them can advance as quickly," he said, adding that the EU was focusing on talks with Japan, Mexico and the Mercosur bloc.
The Philippines derided the European Parliament last month for interfering in its affairs after it issued a resolution calling for the release of a leading critic of the president's war on drugs.
More than 8,000 people have died in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs since he took office last June. Human rights groups say thousands of deaths of drug users and peddlers were extrajudicial killings by security forces.
The Commission spokesman said on Tuesday it was very concerned about the killings and was monitoring whether the Philippines was meeting conditions, such as on rights and the environment, required for the removal of tariffs on many of its exports to the EU.
The Commission would also review the findings of a United Nations report on human rights in the Philippines, due to be completed by mid-May.
"We will then carefully consider what implications the findings might also have for the EU's trade engagement with the Philippines," the Commission spokesman said.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Andrew Roche)