Politics and trade do not mix, Lopez tells EU businessmen

MANILA, Philippines – Business and politics do not mix.

This was the conclusion when Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez spoke Tuesday, October 17,  at the European Union-Philippines Business Summit held at the Solaire Grand Ballroom.

Lopez warned about political interference and he cited  "the importance of mutual respect for sovereignty," echoing the stern statements of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

President Duterte on Thursday, October 12, wrongly claimed that the EU wanted to expel the Philippines from the United Nations Human Rights Council. As a retaliation, Duterte threatened to kick out EU ambassadors.

However, the Duterte's fiery speech did not affect the EU businessmen in the summit. 

Statement of the EU businessmen

"You know, rhetoric is rhetoric and we have taken it with a smile. I think we have issued a statement, it was very loving. We have cleared – the issue has been addressed adequately. I think that should be the end of it," said European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines President Guenter Taus.

Their statement on Thursday, October 12, said: "The recent visit of the delegation of the 'International Delegates of the Progressive Alliance' to the Philippines on 8-9 October was not a 'European Union mission', as falsely reported by some media outlets.

"The European Union was not part of the organisation or planning of that visit - neither the Delegation of the European Union in the Philippines nor the European Union institutions in Brussels. The statements made by the Progressive Alliance during its visit to the Philippines were made solely on behalf of the Progressive Alliance and do not represent the position of the European Union.

"The Delegation continues to operate and function normally, and is committed to working constructively and productively with the Philippines for the benefit of the population," the statement continued.

During the summit, the DTI secretary said Duterte does not take foreign interference well.  "That’s his [the President's] statement and of course that will be the government policy – we’re not changing it. What we are just emphasizing is the importance of mutual respect for sovereignty," Lopez said, referring to the President's EU remarks.

After Duterte's erroneous speech about the EU, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Friday said the President was reacting to "statements by a 7-member delegation of the International Delegates of the Progressive Alliance which has falsely portrayed itself as an EU mission." (READ: Malacañang admits Duterte 'being fed wrong info' on EU)

Secretary Lopez said any interference in the Philippines' sovereignty may result in the "extreme reaction" that "even the trade is willing to be sacrificed... Hopefully it does not happen." 

 

'Business is different from politics'

Taus clarified that the previous statements by European delegates and the EU Parliament do not represent the EU Commission's opinion which is in charge of the trade agreements.

He furthermore stated that "while EU Commission cannot stop the EU Parliament from seeing the things they see, the EU Commission only looks after business and not politics."

According to him, trade negotiations are still on track and only time will tell what will happen next. 

In previous years, the EU has played an important role in the Philippine economy and agribusiness industry. The EU has been the 2nd top export market and the 4th top source of OFW remittances. (READ: FAST FACTS: How important is the EU to the Philippines?– Rappler.com