Free Trade Agreements and ASEAN Economic Integration. These were some of the topics discussed in the recently held National Advocacy and Consultation Program for the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the Capampangan Island Function Hall, City of San Fernando, Pampanga on July 29, 2015.
In his opening remarks,Assistant Secretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) stressed the support of the government to Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) through the concerted programs and “One Voice, One Team,” of different agencies of the government such as the DTI, Departmentof Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology(DOST), the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and other agencies. The government, through the Bureau of International Trade and the Tariff Commission, is also negotiating the best tariff and non-tariff arrangements in our Free Trade Agreements to boost exports and maximize imports. Director Marlyn Saluta of the Tariff Commission emphasized the need to use the flexibility of the tariff system called the “Swiss Formula” of WTO to our advantage and enable Philippine exporters to get the best deal.The Philippines is a member of the WTO and is a signatory to regional and bilateral free trade agreements.
A contentious issue raised by forum participants was on the effect of free trade on the protection of our farmers from dumping of agricultural products by developed and developing countries in the ASEAN, North America and Europe. BITR Assistant Director Angel Salvador Benedictos clarified that while the ASEAN integration provides for zero tariff on more than 90% of products from the region, many of the exceptions on liberalized trade agreements are on local agricultural products like rice, cassava and banana. He also appeased the apprehension that professionals coming from other countries in the region might crowd out working professionals in the country. He noted that in the practice of profession, domestic laws and regulations on labor preference shall still be followed.
Members of the academe ask Director Angel Benedictos of the DTI Bureau of International Trade on the effects of free trade on agriculture
Assistant Director Lolibeth R. Medrano of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) explained the services provided by the IPO and emphasized the importance of registering patents, trademarks and copyrights to protect Philippine businesses, especially at the onset of trade liberalization. DTI Zambales Provincial Director Leonila T. Baluyut expressed her gratitude to the attendees who came from the academe, local governments, and exporters. She hoped other partnerships between the public and private sector can be developed to educate more stakeholders.