MANILA, 17 June 2021 – The Philippines and Switzerland successfully convened the 4th Meeting of the Joint Economic Cooperation (JEC) under the chairmanship of Dr. Ceferino S. Rodolfo, Undersecretary for Industry Development and Trade Policy of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Ambassador Erwin Bollinger, Head of Bilateral Economic Relations of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

The meeting marked the 8th anniversary of the bilateral JEC since it was established in June 2013, as well as the 3rd anniversary of the Philippines-European Free Trade Association Free Trade Agreement (PH-EFTA FTA) since the agreement entered into force on 1 June 2018.

The JEC meeting serves as an avenue to discuss trade, investment, economic cooperation, and related matters to forge closer bilateral trade and investment ties between both countries. Undersecretary Rodolfo remarked, “We believe that through this JEC and the PH-EFTA FTA, the Philippines and Switzerland can keep the positive momentum in our relations in the coming years. We continue to accord high importance to the JEC, as it will serve as an instrumental mechanism for us to identify our complementarities and build synergies in areas of mutual interest—in trade, investment, renewable energy, agriculture, and innovation to name a few.”

Under the context of economic recovery from COVID-19, both sides exchanged updates on respective economic recovery strategies. Undersecretary Rodolfo took the opportunity to underline the improvement of the Philippines’ economic performance and progress on the country’s economic policy reforms, including the recent passage of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act. Both sides also acknowledged the increased collaboration amidst the pandemic, such as the Swiss support for the Philippines’ PPE manufacturing sectors through the Global Quality and Standards Program (GQSP). The forthcoming finalization of this GQSP project is aligned with the DTI’s thrust towards building strong domestic production of internationally certified medical-grade PPEs.

Moreover, discussion covered the implementation and promotion of the PH-EFTA FTA. Undersecretary Rodolfo highlighted, “Since the FTA entered into force in June 2018, the Philippines was able to turn around its trade deficit with EFTA. In 2019, the Philippines posted a trade surplus of USD47 million. Total trade between the Philippines and EFTA likewise increased by 2.40% from USD802 million in 2018 to USD821 million in 2019. For 2020, this surplus even grew to USD109 million despite the COVID19 pandemic. Exports to EFTA likewise increased by 6% in 2020 from USD434 million in 2019 to USD461 million in 2020”. Top Philippine agricultural and food products exported to Switzerland under the PH-EFTA FTA include desiccated coconuts, prepared/preserved tuna, juice of tropical fruit, food preparations, tropical nuts, and raw cane sugar, among others.

The JEC Co-chairs also welcomed the establishment of the informal working group for the PH-EFTA FTA promotion and development of an online interactive FTA web tool, as well as DTI’s advocacies and plans in the pipeline. These include the upcoming DTI-led promotion webinar series this year, which aims to increase exporters’ awareness of the PH-EFTA FTA. This is composed of three series, namely, (a) Understanding the PH-EFTA FTA by Chapter; (b) Understanding the PH-EFTA FTA by Product/Sector, and (c) How to Export in EFTA.  

Complementing initiatives to further maximize the benefits brought about by the PH-EFTA FTA, both sides exchanged updates regarding the market studies on the Philippines’ natural ingredients, processed food, and value-added textiles sector conducted by the Swiss Import Promotion Program (SIPPO). Highlighting the Philippines’ market advantages, these market studies mentioned the country’s large pool of skilled and high-resource English-speaking workforce, high potential in the development of technologies for the processing of native raw material into high-quality natural ingredients, and international reputation to be a 1A origin for many tropical processed foodstuffs, among others. The JEC meeting likewise featured cooperation initiatives and prospective opportunities in investment and Swiss’ strong industrial areas, such as agriculture, renewable energy, and innovation. On the latter, Undersecretary Rodolfo noted the concrete partnership in which the Bern University of Applied Sciences worked with the Philippines to develop an environmentally friendly technology for transforming agricultural byproducts, such as coconut husks, to produce an innovative product with construction applications.

The Official Delegations of Philippines and Switzerland together with the Swiss Business Delegation
The Official Delegations of Philippines and Switzerland together with the Swiss Business Delegation

A key highlight of the JEC meeting was the participation of the private sector representatives from chemical, mechanical & electrical, pharmaceutical, watch, elevator/escalator manufacturing, and management service industries. Swiss businesses welcomed the economic reform initiatives undertaken by the Philippines to improve the business and investment environment and to enhance the competitiveness of the country. This special portion provided an opportunity for the Philippines to further clarify its current business and regulatory regime and for both countries to promote sound business-to-business cooperation and to ensure that the JEC outcomes will be commercially meaningful.Prior to the JEC meeting, DTI successfully held the virtual business forum titled ‘Philippines and Switzerland: Investing Together for a Better Future’, which highlighted the two countries’ complementarities on specific areas such as clean technology and renewable energy, infrastructure development, and life sciences.

In 2020, Switzerland remained to be one of the Philippines’ important economic partners in Europe—placing as the country’s 22nd trading partner (up by 6 notches from 28th in 2019 to 22nd in 2020) and 24th investment partner (up by 8 notches from 32nd in 2019 to 24th in 2020). Total trade with Switzerland amounted to about USD 771.29M. These figures are foreseen to steadily increase given the PH-EFTA FTA in place combined with the promotion and cooperation activities being pursued under the JEC. ♦

Date of Release: 28 June 2021