Aquino presses for PH inclusion in Pacific trade deal

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If left out of the deal, the Philippines stands to lose its share of the US market to Asian neighbors. Restrictions on foreign ownership in its Constitution is hampering its bid

President Benigno S. Aquino III  with His Excellency Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, during the joint press statement at the President’s Hall of the Malacañan Palace for the State Visit to the Philippines on Monday, April 28, 2014. Photo from the Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III said Monday, April 28, he and United States President Barack Obama discussed how the Philippines could participate in a free trade pact being negotiated among 12 Pacific Rim countries.

“The Philippines is working to ascertain how participation in TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) can be realized,” Aquino said at a press conference with Obama after their bilateral meeting in Malacañang.

Obama, who is in Manila for the final leg of his Asian tour, said: “We discussed the steps that the Philippines could take to position itself for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I encouraged the President to seize the opportunity he’s created by opening the next phase of economic reform and growth.”

The TPP is an ambitious effort that, if finally concluded, will not only reduce tariffs among participating markets, but also establish standards for a number of issues, such as intellectual property, environment protection, and labor rights.

The TPP is being negotiated between the US and 11 other countries, namely Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. These countries account for about 40% of the global economy.

The deal has stalled as Japan and US lock horns over key details, including Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports and US access to the latter’s huge auto market.

The Philippines’ trade and finance departments are pushing for the country’s inclusion in the deal to avoid losing the country’s share of the US market to participating neighbors in the region.

However, restrictions in the Philippine Constitution, such as limits on foreign ownership of land and certain businesses, are hampering the country’s bid.

AmCham Philippines, the oldest American chamber of commerce outside the US, backs the Philippines’ plan to enter the TPP.

“We hope that the Philippines will be welcomed into the group of countries in the TPP at the earliest opportunity to help sustain high levels of economic growth needed for the Filipino people to enjoy better lives in future years,” it said.

Some groups, however, oppose it. 

“The TPP aims to dismantle all controls and regulations on big corporations in a free-trade zone where the US can control trade routes, plunder untapped natural resources, and even file harassment suits against governments,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

Bautista said that, under the TPP, “trade, social, environment, and health and safety regulations on the entry of foreign investment in member countries will be removed, effectively dismantling national sovereignty and patrimony by allowing foreign big businesses to own the land and resources in the said countries.”

The TPP and partnerships in other areas such as defense are on top of the agenda of Obama’s visit.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the Philippines was pursuing stronger ties with the US in many areas of the economy, such as trade, finance, overseas Filipino employment, remittances, and foreign direct investments.

He noted the Philippines was more “interlinked” with the US than any other country in the region.

“Our commercial, educational, legal, public institutions, and even language, have much in common between the two countries. This is why it is natural that we find common interests in development,” Balisacan said.

In 2013, the US was the second largest trading partner of the Philippines, with total trade between the two countries amounting to $14.5 billion. The US remained as one of the major sources of cash remittances from Filipinos abroad from 2007 to 2013. Last year, cash remittances from overseas totaled $23 billion, up by 7.4% from 2012. –

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