PH, EU revive free trade talks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 31) — The Philippine government and the European Union (EU) are now working to resume discussions on a bilateral free trade agreement.

In his speech, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “concluded a successful and productive bilateral meeting” during the latter’s official visit to the country on Monday.

“We discussed economic relations with a particular focus on revitalizing trade between our two regions. I welcome the conduct this year of scoping exercises between the European Commission and the Philippines towards negotiations for a Philippines-EU free trade agreement,” he added.

Der Leyen said her visit seeks to “accelerate a new era of cooperation” between the EU and the Philippines.

“The European Union is already your fourth largest trading partner... but we can do so much more. So I'm very glad that we have decided to relaunch negotiations for a free trade agreement,” she said.

“Our teams will get to work right now on setting the right conditions so that we can get back to the negotiations,” the EU official added.

Pushing for the implementation of a bilateral FTA, der Leyen is confident that it would promote growth and job creation.

Last May, Marcos said that the “timing and conditions are now quite ripe for us to solidify the long-standing and historically beneficial trade relations” through a bilateral free trade agreement between the Philippines and EU.

Talks on the trade deal began a decade ago, but formal negotiations only started in 2016. The last round of negotiations, meanwhile, took place in February 2017.

READ: Marcos: Time is ripe to resume 'win-win' PH-EU free trade talks

The FTA, Marcos previously said, was a “win-win strategy” as this would boost the economic goals of both parties.

The Department of Trade and Industry earlier said that an FTA with the EU would secure additional duty-free market access for the Philippines on top of what is covered by the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus scheme, and that it would improve foreign investments from EU countries.

In a statement on Monday, EU Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) Philippe Dam said there is still a lot to be done to improve the country’s human rights situation before it can be given a “clean bill of health” by the EU.

“Extrajudicial killings in the continuing “drug war” as well as violence, harassment, and intimidation of activists and members of civil society are still happening,” he said. “Workers’ rights are still severely curtailed while Indigenous peoples, environment activists, and journalists remain vulnerable to state violence.”

Dam said it is concerning that Leyen did not tackle human rights and civil liberties issues, stressing that the human rights situation in the Philippines remains dire.

“The EU should not look the other way and should tie a future trade deal to concrete labor and human rights improvements and accountability for past violations,” the HRW official said.