PHL, EFTA economic ties seen to boost after JDC signing

By Kris M. Crismundo

MANILA, July 1 (PNA) — As the Philippines and four-member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) inked a Joint Declaration on Cooperation (JDC) during the last week of June in Reykjavik, Iceland, economic ties among signatory countries are expected to increase.

“The JDC paves the way for enhanced relations between the Philippines and EFTA. The opportunities for both sides are tremendous — the Philippines could benefit from the technologies of the EFTA states while EFTA stands to benefit from the economic growth story of the Philippines. We welcome the signing of the JDC; there appears to be a bright future for this agreement, hence the Philippines would like to pursue it with vigor,” said Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Gregory L. Domingo, who signed the JDC for the Philippines.

Domingo mentioned that the country aims to increase its share in trade and investments from EFTA just like what other ASEAN neighbors are doing.

EFTA’s top import source within ASEAN is Vietnam, sharing 30.26 percent of EFTA’s total import from Southeast Asia.

Aside from the Philippines, other ASEAN members like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are also negotiating free trade agreement (FTA) with EFTA. Only Singapore has an existing FTA with the said economic bloc.

Moreover, DTI Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal Jr. noted that the enhanced economic cooperation between the Philippines and EFTA is complementary.

“Noting the vast potentials of our bilateral relations, the Philippines has been reaching out more to EFTA just as our ASEAN neighbors are doing. We have studied the possibilities and potential benefits of entering into a more active relationship with EFTA states and we believe that there are strong complementarities,” Cristobal said.

“EFTA’s strengths in shipbuilding, iron and steel, auto and auto parts and components as well as aerospace, IT-BPM, and pharmaceuticals are areas where we can explore cooperation initiatives. For example, Norway’s shipbuilding and ship repair industry can be explored to support our local industry’s goal to develop a maritime equipment industry which can supply domestic and ASEAN requirements,” he cited.

He added that the JDC can also facilitate business contacts in aerospace original equipment manufacturers to help the country improve its presence in this sector in the global market.

He also cited other areas of cooperation which include information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services, creative services, financial services, tourism services, educational services, architectural/engineering services, maritime transport and energy services.

“The Philippines has a competitive supply of voice and non-voice services and IT solutions to EFTA Member States in the sectors of banking, shipbuilding, precision engineering, pharmaceutical and chemical sectors. Similarly we see a significant export potential in creative services which include editing, sound mixing, dubbing, animation and computer graphics,” Cristobal said.

Meanwhile, after the JDC signing, chief negotiators of the Philippines and EFTA member-states will discuss the process towards FTA.

“The parties agreed that a Scoping Paper containing the principal terms of references for the scope and the process of the negotiations is due in September for consideration with a view of launching negotiations before the end of 2014,” DTI said.

EFTA is composed of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. (PNA)