A SEPTEMBER TARGET has been set to conclude free trade talks between the Philippines and South Korea, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said.
“Kasi nga aapurahin ito eh, so June, July, August, September, mga four or five months sana matapos na yung mga usapan na yun para November pipirmahan na.” (We are hurrying this… around four or five months we hope the talks will finish so we can sign in November,) Mr. Lopez said during the opening of the KOTRA-Manila FTA Support Center Tuesday.
The Philippines’ main concern for the FTA is to lower tariffs for agricultural products like bananas.
“Syempre ang gusto natin, single digit, less than 10%. Five percent, we hope.” (Of course we want a single digit tariff, 5%, we hope) he said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) currently has a free trade agreement with South Korea, but Mr. Lopez said that tariffs are still high.
“Ang taripa ng banana ng Korea una sa atin ay sabi ko nga, medyo mataas pa, pwede pang ibaba yan. (The tariffs charged by South Korea can still be lowered) in the same way na ang taripa natin, Pilipinas, sa mga Korean fruits ay mababa na (to the low level our tariffs have been set for Korean fruits.)
Mr. Lopez also said the Philippines wants to narrow its trade deficit with South Korea.
In 2018, imports from South Korea were at $10.5 billion, while exports were at $2.5 billion.
FTA talks started earlier this month.
Mr. Lopez said he expects negotiations to go smoothly, because, being bilateral in nature, it does not involve as many participants as the ASEAN-South Korea talks.
“Ang ASEAN, may FTA na with Korea so kumbaga hindi tayo mag-uumpisa sa zero dito (We are not starting at zero because ASEAN has an FTA with South Korea). Mayroon tayong pagkukunan na kung saan may mga particular mga rules na pwede nang gamitin sa ating Philippines-Korea FTA,” (We can use the ASEAN deal as a basis for the bilateral deal) he added.
The FTA could coincide with the 70th year of diplomatic relations between the two countries as well as a possible visit of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to South Korea.
Mr. Lopez and South Korean ambassador to the Philippines Han Dongman and various South Korean business officials launched the KOTRA Manila FTA Support Center, which will assist small to medium enterprises in trade matters. — Katrina T. Mina