Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told a European Commission official that the Philippines’ European Union zero-tariff privileges are important for the country’s small businesses, which were hit hard by the pandemic, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said Friday.
Mr. Lopez and EC Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis met on Dec. 8, the department said in an email.
More than 600 European legislators voted in September to revoke Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) tariff privileges the Philippines has enjoyed since 2014, citing human rights violations under President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
The Philippines is one of eight countries with such perks. The others are Armenia, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
“Our meeting today is indicative of the country’s continuing strong ties with the EU, and we hope to push for deeper trade and investment engagement by maximizing the benefits from the GSP+ and through a possible foreign trade agreement (FTA) with them,” Mr. Lopez said.
Mr. Lopez “reiterated the importance of GSP+ to the country’s micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as small communities, in the wake of the economic challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic,” the department said.
GSP+ confers zero-tariff status to 6,274 Philippine products, subject to Manila’s compliance with 27 core international conventions that include human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.
Mr. Lopez said the Philippines is ready to engage the EU “in constructive dialogue with the conduct of a technical mission early next year,” the department said.
In a resolution posted on the European Parliament’s website in September, the European legislators cited the “seriousness of human rights violations” in the Philippines.
They called on the EC to immediately start the process for the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences enjoyed by the Philippines given the government’s failure to improve the human rights situation.
A quarter of Philippine exports to the EU last year worth nearly 2 billion euros were admitted under the scheme, according to the resolution.
At the meeting, the two officials said they looked forward to the convening of the Sub-Committee of Trade, Investment and Economic Cooperation under the PH-EU Partnership Cooperation Agreement next year, the DTI said.
“Under the sub-committee, both sides are expected to discuss the negotiations for a bilateral FTA between the Philippines and the EU,” it added. — Arjay L. Balinbin