Cagayan de Oro, Philippines—The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), in partnership with the Mindanao Development Authority (MINDA), kicked off its first international trade forum: the Trade Education and Advocacy (TEA) Campaign.

With the theme: “Empowering Philippine Export Industries of Northeastern Mindanao,” the campaign aims to optimize the benefits offered by the country’s free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, Philippine-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) FTA, Philippine Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJEPA) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) trade agreements.

“FTAs are tools for Philippine exporters to integrate into global and regional markets and tap new markets for Philippine goods and services. These strategic alliances, complemented by persistent efforts to enhance the quality of Filipino products and services, strengthen the resilience of the Philippine economy and elevate our brands internationally,” said DTI Secretary Fred Pascual.

The international trade forum gathered around 200 representatives from local industries, including micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and beneficiaries of the Rural Agro-industrial Partnership for Inclusive Development and Growth Project, business associations, universities, and other government agencies from the region.

Moreover, the engagement provided an avenue for participants to attend sessions to access information and seek guidance from key government agencies, such as the DTI’s Bureau of International Trade Relations, Export Marketing Bureau, Bureau of Import Services, Strategic Trade Management Office, the Bureau of Customs, and the Tariff Commission.

The DTI’s efforts are crucial in elevating enterprises and entrepreneurs by promoting and supporting them to develop a solid domestic market base and eventually expand into the export market. By implementing programs to build a start-up ecosystem across developing industries, the DTI helps domestic enterprises produce diverse and sophisticated products and services that can compete in the global market.

In his keynote message, DTI Undersecretary for International Trade Allan B. Gepty stressed the unparalleled business opportunities our FTAs can offer to showcase the region’s products and services. He said, “These agreements not only provide market access for goods and services but also create an attractive environment for investments and establish a stable and predictable trade framework.”

“The country’s strength in international trade is anchored on the strength of our regions. The stronger and more competitive our regions are, the more competitive the Philippines is in engaging with our trading partners,” the undersecretary added.

The TEA campaign aligns with DTI’s broader mission to develop local industries by fostering economic growth through attracting investments and expanding exports. The DTI is determined to create an attractive investment climate, promote trade agreements, and facilitate partnerships between domestic and foreign businesses. Through these agreements, the DTI aims to diversify the country’s exports in terms of products, services, and country destinations.

Meanwhile, one year into the implementation of the world’s largest FTA deal to-date, the DTI also promoted the RCEP agreement’s trade facilitative features as a key advantage compared to other FTAs of the Philippines with major trading partners.

Representatives of RCEP members from Australia, China, and Indonesia, who participated in the forum, highlighted their experiences and the positive impact RCEP has had on their economies—underscoring the agreement’s importance for the region.

Furthermore, the DTI updated participants on opportunities under the Philippines’ bilateral FTAs and Generalized System of Preferences (GSPs) networks, featuring the active FTAs Japan and the EFTA countries, as well as the signed agreement to be implemented soon with the Republic of Korea.

Notably, the tariff preferences for Philippine goods under the GSPs, such as those with the EU and United Kingdom, give competitive advantages to exporters over non-GSP+ countries.

The TEA campaign is a series of information sessions forming part of the DTI’s plan to enhance the export capabilities of local industries. The effort complements the implementation of the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 and the Philippine Export Development Plan 2023-2028, which aim to develop the country as an agile export powerhouse.

Beyond such informational fora, another pillar of the campaign is to establish FTA Clinics to build the capacity of regions to provide expertise to businesses. These initiatives supplement DTI Secretary Pascual’s directive to create opportunities for Philippine exporters to integrate in global value chains and access new markets by forging strategic partnerships. ♦

Date of release: 20 June 2024