Aquino’s Europe trip priorities: China, trade

MANILA, Philippines – As President Benigno Aquino III travels to Europe, his focus will be on inviting continued support for the Philippines in its maritime dispute with China and increasing trade and investments in the Philippines.

On Monday, September 8, Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Zenaida Collinson outlined the schedule of the President and his entourage, who will be departing for Europe on the evening of Saturday, September 13. The Philippine delegation will be visiting 4 different countries for two days each, before heading to the United States.

“[Europe] is our partner in the political field when it comes to comes to values, democracy, rule of law, support for our position in WPS (West Philippine Sea), Europe is right there with us,” Collinson said. “[This trip is a] manner of recognizing the importance of this region – it's about time.”

This will be Aquino’s first travel to Europe since the beginning of his term.

According to Collinson, Aquino will be meeting with various heads of states to seek continous support regarding its maritime dispute with China over the on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or the South China Sea, and to introduce them to the Philippines’ triple action plan, the country’s roadmap on how it plans to seek resolution with China regarding the West Philippine Sea.

“Europe supports us in terms of peaceful resolution of China conflict within framework of international law…including arbitration,” she said. “We expect these countries to uphold their positions and take into cognizance recent developments.”

In addition, Collinson said Aquino will talk about the Philippines’ application to the European Union’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which provides developing countries preferential access to the EU market through reduced tariffs.

Aquino will also encourage investments in the Philippines, ranging from tourism to specific products like Information Technology, adding “there are feelers for very big investments.” Collinson, however, hesitated to say what these investments are.

European support

Aquino’s first stop will be Spain, followed by a trip to Belgium and the European Union, before he heads to France and, finally, Germany.

Other bilateral issues Aquino is expected to discuss with his European counterparts are as follows:

Aquino is also scheduled to meet with the various Filipino communities living in the European countries he will be visiting.

In Spain, Aquino will meet King Felipe VI – who is also expected to visit the Philippines – as well as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The Philippines is Spain’s only Official Development Assistance (ODA) priority country in Asia.

After Spain, the President will meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, before meeting the Prime Minister of Belgium Elio di Rupo, and King of Belgium, King Philippe. Aquino will invite King Philippe to visit the country.

Aquino’s 3rd stop is France, where he will meet with French President Francois Hollande. The two countries are expected to sign an air service agreement, update their defense cooperation agreement, reactivate the joint economic committee to provide stimulus to bilateral economic cooperation, sign an agreement on establishing a political consultation mechanism, and sign a memorandum of understanding for academic collaboration.

Aquino will also receive military honors and lay a wreath at the Arc de Triomphe.

His final stop in the region will be in Germany, where he will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal President Joachim Gauck. The Philippines and Germany will sign a social security agreement.

Aquino will also encourage German investments by establishing the German-Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, ask for greater promotion for Philippine nurses in Germany, and work to secure continued German support for the the Philippines’ maritime industry.

Collinson expressed confidence the Philippines will appear as an attractive option, and said the trip will allow the region to appreciate the Philippines’ “potential for further engagement and trade.”

“The Philippines is a very attractive proposition in the moment,” she said. “We have a very good story to tell." 

She also gave assurances the costs of the trip will not be "stratospheric," since all but one of Aquino's travels will be an official visit.