PH in a better position to become part of Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Philippines is expected to gain a favorable position in its bid to become part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), considered to be the country’s only chance to have a trade agreement with the United States, given recent moves to further liberalize the local economy.

Trade Undersecretary Adrian S. Cristobal Jr. said Friday that the government’s plan to amend the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), the recent liberalization of the Philippine banking sector, and the proposals to ease the restrictions for foreign retail investors wanting to do business in the country, are among the “positive signs that we’re opening up the economy and that’s advantageous for us, not only for the TPP, but for our negotiations with the European Union, among others.”

As it is, the Philippines’ planned participation in the TPP has been received favorably by most of the 12 countries that are part of the ongoing TPP negotiations, according to Cristobal.

The trade official noted that for now, the Philippines will continue to conduct technical consultations with the TPP members as it awaits the group to arrive at an agreement and open up a second round of negotiations for those wanting to accede.

Such consultations are necessary as these activities provide the Philippines with an opportunity to get more details on the different issues being tackled under the TPP and to identify the possible challenges that the country may face.

“A consultation gives us a better idea of the challenges and possible hurdles. For instance, it gives us an idea on what’s being debated upon when it comes to intellectual property rights (IPR), government procurement or investor protection,” Cristobal explained. “We could also identify the best practices, those issues that we can manage and are not problematic, and what we’re capable of as we move to the process of joining the TPP. We have to study all these carefully under the existing laws. We have to analyze very well these areas and identify if some amendments will be needed.”

So far, the Philippines has conducted technical consultations with Malaysia, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It is now looking at having similar consultations with Japan and Canada, which already offered to conduct such activities with the Philippines, Cristobal said. There are, however, no immediate plans yet to have consultations with the other member countries in the TPP negotiations, namely Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

According to Cristobal, it was not necessary to cover all the 12 countries as conducting the technical consultations is not even a prerequisite to joining the TPP negotiations. Consultations, however, are strongly encouraged by the member states as these will enable an interested country like the Philippines to do its research before it makes a decision to finally join.

Also, an interested country must be endorsed favorably and unanimously to be able to join the negotiations once the second round is opened.

On the ground, the Philippines has also conducted initial impact studies that would weigh the benefits against the potential injuries to the local economy.

“By the end of the year we will have a much clearer idea upon which a firm decision can be made of whether the Philippines will or can join the TPP,” Cristobal added.

The TPP, which was earlier targeted for conclusion this month, is a multilateral agreement that will lower trade barriers among participating countries and strengthen patent protection, among others. –Amy R. Remo |Philippine Daily Inquirer

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