The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) intensifies efforts to deepen and strengthen the country’s strategic trade and economic partnerships with the recent conclusion of the 5th round of negotiations on the Philippines-EFTA Free Trade Agreement. “We have made substantial progress in key areas of complementation and are optimistic that we can sign the agreement before June this year,” said DTI Undersecretary for Industry Development Dr. Ceferino S. Rodolfo.

EFTA, composed of member economies Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland, concluded its 5th round of negotiations with the Philippines earlier this month. Prior to the negotiations, the DTI conducted eight (8) consultations on a possible PH-EFTA free trade agreement. “We are grateful to the private sector, to the government agencies, civil society, and the academe for their active involvement and participation in the series of consultations held since 2013 prior to the negotiations with EFTA,” he added.

Rodolfo said that, with the nearing conclusion of the FTA negotiations, the government is developing a work program that will encourage and promote utilization of the free trade agreement so Philippine industries and sectors will be able to benefit from the opportunities and potential of the PH-EFTA FTA.

“Right now, most Philippine products have duty free access to the EU through the European Union’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (EU-GSP+). We are targeting a more permanent and long term relationship through the ongoing negotiations with EFTA,” Rodolfo said.He added that establishing a strong foothold in the European market is a key component of the country’s trade strategy.

In 2014, the top Philippine exports to the EFTA Member States include gold in semi-manufactured forms, digital monolithic integrated circuits, aircraft parts, printed circuits, artificial teeth and silver. On the other hand, Philippine imports from EFTA include medicaments, diagnostic or laboratory reagents, parts of airplanes or helicopters and wrist-watches.

“Improving market access with Europe through EFTA will encourage investments in the services and non-services sector, bring in high value added products, technological knowhow, and capital from their highly developed economies to our local economy,” he added.

The Philippines is also actively participating in negotiationson the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Rodolfo said that the DTI will continue technical consultations with the rest of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) member countries including Chile, Peru, Japan, and Viet Nam.In 2015, technical consultations were held with Canada and Mexico following consultations with the United States, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand which were concluded in 2014.

“The country’s sectors and industries stand to benefit greatly from these trade initiatives. These will, as well, further improve the country’s global standing as we engage in freer tradeand attract more foreign direct investments,” Rodolfo concluded.