Early achievement package better than no free trade deal?

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    The Philippines and Korea are set to issue at the end of their bilateral talks in Seoul a joint statement on an early achievement package of their proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with a commitment to conclude the deal by 2020.

    Ramon Lopez, secretary of the Department of the Trade and Industry, said he and his counterpart Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee will report to their leaders President Duterte and South Korean President Moon Jae at the sidelines of the Asean-Korean Summit the package containing areas of liberalization where both parties have initially agreed on.

    Lopez said the first or preliminary achievement is not an agreement as details on the modalities like the tariff cuts and the number of years for liberalization are still subject to negotiation and improvement,

    “There will be a package where we agreed on the first, preliminary achievement. This is not an agreement because this will have to be improved, this is not implementable. It is something that we want to report to the leaders,” he said.

    The Philippines and Korea had planned to sign the FTA at the sidelines of the summit but negotiations reached a stalemate after both parties failed to agree on tariff cuts on products critical to each other, automotive for Seoul and fruits for Manila.

    “There will be an outcome, a joint statement between two ministers, an early achievement package on where we agreed so far. We basically agreed to finalize and go towards the improvement of the package for next year’s conclusion,” Lopez said.

    He added: “Up to certain point, there are products and commitments where we agreed to reduce, how many years. But we agreed also to improve, reduce and fasttrack tariff reduction. There are early indications where we are and that will be reported to the bilateral meeting between the Philippines and Korea on the sidelines of the Asean-Korea summit.”

    For the Philippines, Lopez said, government is “not happy with what we are seeing.”

    Lopez said both parties have yet agreed on the parameters and the landing zone.

    “We are at mid-point, that’s where we are, and we want to bring it to the landing point.

    This package we will report to the leaders that we are talking… but we will commit to (conclude) within 2020,” he added.

    He said both sides have stopped thinking the deal will be concluded this year.

    The bilateral meeting is scheduled today, November 25.