MANILA — The Philippines and the European Union have agreed to restart negotiations to establish a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Monday.
Marcos gave the statement after his meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Malacañang, where the two leaders also witnessed the signing of an agreement to begin cooperation on environmental projects.
“I welcome the conduct this year of scoping exercises between the European Commission and the Philippines towards negotiations for a Philippines-EU free trade agreement,” he said.
“The Philippine government experts will work with the European Commission in achieving a bilateral FTA,” he said.
The Philippines and the European Union started to discuss the creation of an FTA on December 22, 2015, but talks were stalled due to several deadlocks, especially on the issues of intellectual property rights and data exclusivity in key industries such as pharmaceuticals.
The EU has imported €10.78-billion worth of goods from the Philippines, while its exports to the country amounted to €7.6 billion, according to data from the European Commission’s website.
Bilateral trade between the Philippines and the European Union in 2022 was pegged at €18.38 billion, data showed.
While the amount is €3.16 billion higher than €15.22 billion in bilateral trade in 2021, it only accounts for 0.3 percent of the EU’s total global trade.
The lack of an FTA has left the Philippines as the EU’s sixth-largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, lagging behind topnotchers Singapore and Vietnam which have already forged FTAs with the Western trading bloc as early as 2014.
Von der Leyen, the first European Commission President who visited the Philippines, said that her trip to the country is designed to “accelerate a new era of cooperation” between the EU and the Philippines, as the regional bloc “believes in the international rules-based order” and “the need to promote and to defend it.”
“I'm very glad that we have decided to relaunch negotiations for a free trade agreement,” she said, noting that this is part of the EU’s efforts to “strengthen our ties across the board.”
“Our teams will get to work right now on setting the right conditions so that we can get back to the negotiations,” she said.
“A Free Trade Agreement has huge potential for both of us in terms of growth and in terms of jobs,” she said.
The EU is keen “to diversify our supply lines and make them resilient,” Von der Leyen said.
“This is a lesson we have learned and that is what we call ‘derisking’ our trade relations,” she said.
“An FTA is the basis for that. But it's also much more. An FTA can be a springboard for a new technology cooperation to modernize the broader economy,” she added.
Marcos Jr. described his meeting with Von der Leyen as “successful and productive.”
“The continued exchanges between Her Excellency and myself, which started in Brussels last year, is testament to our joint desire to bring our bilateral relationship to greater heights,” the Philippine President said.
“Let this be a new beginning for the strengthening and the deepening of all our ties with the EU and the Philippines.”