Makati—Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon M. Lopez met with Deputy United States Trade Representative (USTR) Jeffrey D. Gerrish and his delegation to further trade and investment ties and continue with the exploratory discussions for a possible free trade agreement (FTA) between the Philippines (PH) and the United States (US). The two countries agreed that an FTA would be a win for both countries, as both acknowledge there are already opportunities under the current Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) that both teams can work on to facilitate immediately more trade.

This follows the meeting of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and U.S. President Donald Trump during the 2017 ASEAN Summit and the statement of USTR Robert Lighthizer, acknowledging the need to strengthen bilateral relations with countries in the Asia Pacific, including PH during a Congressional hearing last March.

“We are looking forward to exploring a free trade agreement with the U.S. Meanwhile, we can simultaneously pursue low-hanging opportunities like the existing TIFA and the privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) of the U.S.,” said Trade Secretary Lopez.

Deputy USTR Gerrish said that “President Trump has made clear his commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and the United States values our very important trade relationship with the Philippines,” and that “greater engagement on trade and investment will benefit both countries.”

PH currently enjoys preferential duty-free entry to the US through its GSP scheme. In 2017, GSP exports accounts for 17.6% of PH exports to the US, valued at US$ 1.492 billion. Leading GSP exports include tires, sugar, electronics, and fruit and vegetable juices. The GSP was also recently renewed to be effective for three years, instead of the annual review.

The renewed GSP also extended the duty-free treatment to travel goods such as suitcases; vanity and attaché cases; handbags; backpacks; travel, sports and similar bags and cases. The DTI wishes to use this momentum to add footwear to the GSP list. This, in turn, will promote Filipino-made shoes and to encourage foreign shoe manufacturers to locate in the Philippines.

DTI Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo likewise pointed out that under the current TIFA, both side are working on addressing policies and rules that can facilitate at once the flow of goods between the two countries, such as those governing import valuation mechanism, and clarification on tariff application on certain goods.

DTI Undersecretary Nora K. Terrado also noted the PH creative industry is benefitting from being excluded from the USTR Special 301 Watch List, a list of countries with deficient intellectual property protections, for the 5th straight year. Usec. Terrado also said that the DTI is planning a trade roadshow in the US to promote PH products. ♦