EU diplomat assures wider access for Philippine products

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/07 September) – Woes concerning the limited access for various local products, including canned tuna, in European markets may soon end after a European Union official assured they will help the country address this problem through the free trade mechanism.

Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, EU envoy and Head of Delegation of the European Commission to the Philippines, said they are committed to provide wider access for products from the country either through a bilateral arrangement or the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“The trade arrangements will be made in the context of the FTA. All concerns, including access for canned tuna, will be subject to these negotiations,” he said in a press conference at the sidelines of the 12th National Tuna Congress here.

Canned tuna exports from the Philippines to the EU is currently subject to 24-percent tariff, a rate deemed very disadvantageous to the tuna industry as some of its export rivals such as the African, Caribbean and the Pacific Group of States (ACP) and Andean countries have been enjoying a zero-percent tariff rate.

The EU had implemented a Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) scheme that allowed the Philippines to export 9,000 metric tons of canned tuna with a 12-percent tariff but the five-year scheme ended in June 2008.

The Philippines had lobbied for the extension of the TRQ scheme but EU officials stressed that the bloc had resolved to address all trade concerns under the FTA framework.

MacDonald reiterated that the EU did not consider renewing the preferential tariff scheme when it lapsed two years ago due to the emergence of its FTA negotiations with the ASEAN.

Although the EU-ASEAN talks have been stalled since late 2008, he said the EU has continued talking with individual members of the regional bloc and made significant progress with the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA).

Last June, the Philippines and EU finally signed the PCA after two years of negotiations.
“It (PCA) provided an excellent foundation should the Philippines and EU wish to further engage (in trade negotiations),” MacDonald said.

The EU earlier introduced the PCA as a component of the proposed comprehensive EU-ASEAN free trade pact. It required ASEAN countries to sign a PCA as a prerequisite to the FTA, which would be separately negotiated by the member-states.

ASEAN comprises the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore and Laos.

“There are no agreements yet but representatives from the EU Trade Commission had positive exchanges with their ASEAN counterparts during a recent meeting in Hanoi (Vietnam) and the overall talks are so far going in that (positive) direction,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)