FTA negotiations between PH, EFTA to start next year

By Louella D. Desiderio, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 15 2014 07:36 AM | Updated as of Jul 15 2014 03:36 PM

MANILA - The Philippines and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) aim to start negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) by early next year and complete the deal by 2017, a trade official said.

Trade undersecretary Adrian Cristobal Jr. said in a press conference yesterday the parties aim to conclude the scoping exercises for the FTA within the year.

“Our target is to wrap it (scoping) up this year. We are targeting or hoping we could start negotiations early next year,” he said.

Scoping, which would involve setting the parameters for negotiations, is expected to begin in September or October.

Cristobal said the parties intend to complete the agreement two years from the start of formal negotiations.

In June, the Philippines and the EFTA (which groups Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) signed the Joint Declaration on Cooperation or the initial step for FTA negotiations.

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The pursuit of the FTA with the EFTA is in line with the Philippines’ interest to strengthen its trade and investment relations with the group’s member states.

Even as the scoping for the possible FTA have yet to start, the Philippines is already working to strengthen its trade and investment ties with EFTA member Switzerland.

Cristobal said the Philippines and Switzerland have agreed to enhance cooperation through the conduct of trade and investment missions, exchange of visits, as well as participation in activities during the inaugural meeting of the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) held yesterday.

The JEC, which provides a mechanism to conduct regular dialogue to improve trade and investment flows between the two parties, was established by an agreement signed by Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo and Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, state secretary and director of Switzerland State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), Federal Department of Economic Affairs of the Swiss Confederation, in June last year.

Cristobal said about two to three exchanges of business delegations are expected from this year until next year to promote more trade and investments between the two countries.

He said that both parties have agreed to explore cooperation in areas of manufacturing, aerospace, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors and electronics, as well as to continue promoting information technology — business process management and knowledge process outsourcing.

He added that the parties share the view there is room to expand trade and investments.

“(Trade) volume is still modest but the important thing is the trend is positive in both directions. As far as investments are concerned, total investment (from Switzerland to the Philippines) is about $3.8 billion. That is also a sound basis to start from,” Ambassador Livia Leu, head of the bilateral economic relations division of the SECO said in the same event.

She noted that two-way trade between the Philippines and Switzerland was valued at $550 million last year, with Swiss exports amounting to $405 million and imports of Philippine goods worth more than a $100 million.

“The next (JEC) meeting is in Switzerland which could be in a year and a half depending on how talks on FTA (with EFTA) advance,” she added.