The Philippines and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are set to begin in March negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) that will expand the parties’ trade and investments relations.
“The first round of EFTA negotiations will be held in Manila on March 23rd,” Raoul Imbach, counsellor and deputy head of mission of the Embassy of Switzerland said in a chance interview with reporters.
He said there would be a chief negotiator from one of the EFTA countries to represent the association’s members, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
The Philippines and EFTA concluded the scoping exercises which would define the parameters of the possible trade deal in Geneva last month.
An FTA with EFTA members is being pushed by the Philippines as it would allow the country to attract more investments from the association’s members as well as encourage trade.
It is also part of the Philippines’ strategy to strengthen its economic relations with Europe and broaden its partnerships.
In terms of investments, the Philippines is expected to benefit in terms of skills and know-how exchange with many EFTA companies engaged in the manufacture of high technology type of products.
The FTA will also open markets for Philippine products such as garments, shoes, electronics and even agricultural goods.
Imbach said the EFTA is ready to conclude the negotiations for the FTA as soon as possible.
“EFTA is ready to do it…It depends mostly on the Philippines. The Philippines is hoping to complete it within this administration. If managed to be done by 2016, that is good,” he said.
Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo told reporters that while completing the negotiations for the FTA before the term of President Aquino ends is in the interest of the Philippines, much will depend on how the talks proceed.
“Obviously, it would be good if we can finish it before March 2016. But that is a very tight schedule. That is a very ambitious schedule. It is doable but it depends on what happens on the negotiations,” he said.
Apart from EFTA, the Philippines is also interested in entering into an FTA with the European Union as well as joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
At present, the Philippines has FTAs with Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as with China, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.