THE PHILIPPINES and the European Free Trade Association (Efta) have substantially moved forward negotiations on a free trade agreement following the fourth round of talks last week.
“The meetings were held in a positive and efficient atmosphere and substantial progress was achieved in all areas,” the Efta said.
According to Efta, the working groups convened on November 24-27 in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss all areas under negotiation, including trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights, sustainable development, government procurement, legal and institutional issues, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, trade remedies, rules of origin and trade facilitation.
The Filipino panel was led by Trade Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal Jr while Ambassador Didier Chambovey of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) acted as the spokesperson for the four member-states of Efta, namely Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The fifth round of negotiations is seen to take place in early 2016 in the Philippines.
Trade Assistant Secretary Ceferino Rodolfo earlier said that the Philippines would be seeking greater access to the services sector of Efta, particularly in the maritime and construction sectors, during the fourth round of negotiations.
“What we’re interested in is maritime services so that our people can work in their maritime and shipping industries. We are also interested in the construction sector in general and in addition, the services related to construction like architectural and drafting services. There may be some limitations to practising there,” Rodolfo explained.
According to Rodolfo, the negotiations between the Philippines and the four members of Efta could be considered in the advanced stage as both parties were now on the “same page.”
The trade official had stressed that what the Philippines and Efta were offering on the table were complementary in terms of the nature of products and price range.
For instance, there was an advantage to manufacturing goods here that are labour intensive in nature, while Efta countries have the advantage in producing goods of high technology. The same goes for agricultural and fisheries products as well.
Efta was deemed an important global economic player and trading partner of the country.
Last year, the total commodity trade between Efta states and the Philippines amounted to $636 million (Bt 22.8 billion), while total foreign direct investments have risen steadily in the last few years.