MANILA—The Philippines is set to further strengthen relations and liberalize trade with neighboring countries to allow local producers to take advantage of preferential tariffs and provide better access to markets of partner economies, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). 

“We are closely looking at how we can do well in global and regional integration with partner economies, especially at opening new markets and strengthening existing ones for our local producers,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said. 

Citing the latest Socioeconomic Report (SER): 2010-2012 recently released by NEDA, Balisacan noted that the country’s continued trade liberalization with member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) already resulted in the removal of tariffs on 98.7 percent of the lines under the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement in 2010. 

The Cabinet official added that the case is similar with trade in services. 

“The Philippines has completed the eighth package of commitments under the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services. The agreement’s text on the movement of persons across ASEAN borders was signed at the ASEAN Summit in November 2012,” noted Balisacan. 

He added that the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA), which envisions to transform the region into an investment hub that would be able to compete with other emerging economies, already entered into force in March 2012. 

“Free trade agreements (FTAs) between ASEAN and giant economies like South Korea, Japan and India, expanded market opportunities for local companies due to lower tariffs, better trade facilitation, among others,” said Balisacan, who is also NEDA Director-General. 

To further deepen economic integration in the ASEAN region, Balisacan said that the Philippines continues to participate in discussions on the ASEAN Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). 

“The RCEP intends to enhance economic cooperation and integration with ASEAN Dialogue Partners based on mutual interest, transparency and best practices. Apart from the RCEP, the country will continue to implement measures to facilitate trade and encourage greater FTA utilization,” said Balisacan. 

The SER reported that the Philippines continues to participate in ASEAN initiatives designed to facilitate trade, including the ASEAN Single Window and the 2nd Pilot Project on ASEAN Self Certification Project, among others. 

In addition, the Philippines is involved in the feasibility study for the ASEAN Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) to support initiatives to boost shipping, rail and air networks in the region, according to the SER. 

The SER also stated that the Doing Business in Free Trade Areas (DBFTA) consultation forums have increased awareness of local producers, exporters, importers, among others, on the preferences provided in the various FTAs. 

As of September 2012, a total of 175 information campaigns have been conducted and attended by some 18,905 participants, mostly from the private sector and business support organizations from the food, motor vehicles/parts, coconut, garments/wearables/homestyle, and services sectors. 

The DBFTA forums provide data, guidance, and direction on how businesses can avail of preferential tariffs, gain access to timely and relevant market information on partner economies, and procedures on breaking into these markets or expanding their share. Inter-agency coordination in the formulation and implementation of the country’s policy towards enhancing relations with regional and inter-regional organizations was also strengthened. 

The Philippine Council for Regional Cooperation (PCRC), formerly known as the Philippine Council on ASEAN and APEC Cooperation, is tasked with discussing all matters related to Philippines positions under the ASEAN, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asia-Europe Meeting, Forum for East Asia and Latin America Cooperation and similar regional initiatives. 

The SER is an assessment of the first two years of the Aquino administration in relation to the targets and strategies set in the PDP 2011-2016. 

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