AmCham not confident of FTA with PHL this year

A FREE trade agreement (FTA) between the Philippines and the US is unlikely before the midterm elections for the US Congress in November, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) said.

AmCham Executive Director Ebb Hinchliffe said that the FTA will not be a US priority ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, with US President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s Democratic party projected to lose control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.

“We’re kind of on the back burner. I do not see any kind of FTA coming out, even maybe in the first term of Mr. Biden because he’s got other things to contend with,” Mr. Hinchliffe said on the sidelines of AmCham’s 120th anniversary celebration in Pasay City last week.

“Right now, everybody is concerned about China and trade with China more than they are concerned on the trade with the Philippines,” he added.

Mr. Hinchliffe added that an FTA could affect the outcome of the election.

“There are some votes that can be affected and they might have some problems with labor unions,” Mr. Hinchliffe said.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has said that the US is on the list of targets for FTA negotiations.

“That’s one of my campaigns, for us to start negotiating FTAs, including with the US. We don’t have an FTA with the US yet; we don’t have an FTA with the European Union yet,” Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual said.

Aside from the FTA, Mr. Pascual said that the Philippines’ eligibility for the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) schmeme is being negotiated.

Philippine eligibility for GSP expired at the end of 2020. The US GSP program allowed the duty-free entry of more than 5,000 Philippine products into the US, such as electronics and agricultural products.  

Separately, Mr. Hinchliffe said that the Philippines should push for domestic investment in vaccine manufacturing.

“The thing we should have learned in the pandemic is in the pharmaceutical sector. This country needs a vaccine manufacturer so we do not need to depend upon the big manufacturers. We need to get somebody to build a pharmaceutical company in the Philippines,” Mr. Hinchliffe said.

He added that AmCham supports the participation of the Philippines in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal.

“AmCham is very much supportive of RCEP, even though America is not involved in it, it is not important. American companies are here. They will be exporting and have the right to utilize RCEP. It is the right thing for the Filipino people. We need to create more jobs. RCEP will create more jobs. Job creation is not bad for anybody,” Mr. Hinchliffe said.

The Philippines has yet to join the RCEP, which started taking effect in the signatory countries on Jan. 1, due to the concerns of legislators over the lack of safeguards for the domestic agriculture sector.  

RCEP involves Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

According to the DTI, bilateral trade between the US and the Philippines was $19.6 billion in 2021.

“In 2021, the US was the Philippines’ third largest trading partner (out of 223), top export market (out of 205), and fifth-largest import supplier (out of 210),” the DTI said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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