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RP, EU start negotiations on cooperation framework

BusinessWorld | Tuesday, February 10, 2009 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

RP, EU start negotiations on cooperation framework

Emilia Narni J. David

THE PHILIPPINES and the European Union (EU) yesterday started talks in Manila for a general framework on bilateral cooperation that is requisite for a free trade agreement (FTA).

The talks, which could take as long as two years to complete, based on similar deals completed earlier with some Southeast Asian neighbors, will dwell on a wide variety of issues - from peace, security and human rights, to protection of intellectual property and workers rights.

Such wide-ranging general framework is the reason free trade deals with the EU are deemed more difficult to achieve than with other markets.

James Moran, director for Asia of the European Commission External Relations, said during the opening of the first round of negotiations for the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) that a partnership between the Philippines and the EU can create the framework for greater understanding and protection of human rights.

"The PCA intends to create an overall framework for our relationship, based on partnership and cooperation. In contrast, the FTA aims at specific trade commitments such as on market access, services and the like," said Mr. Moran in his speech.

Not mutually exclusive

At the same time, however, Mr. Moran clarified that talks for a free trade deal need not wait for a PCA to be signed.

"The PCA applies to all eventual signatories of the ASEAN-EU FTA. It is a requirement for the signing of the FTA and not for FTA talks," Mr. Moran explained in an interview.

Department of Foreign Affair Undersecretary for International Economic Concerns Edsel T. Custodio said the Philippines will carefully balance EU requirements with local development imperatives. "The Philippines could learn from the expertise of Europe; but during these talks we will also insist on having the flexibility to determine areas that would maximize domestic development," he stressed.

Trade Assistant Secretary Jose Antonio S. Buencamino sought to allay concerns that the EU’s wide-ranging requirements for a cooperation framework could complicate talks, saying that the PCA basically puts into paper many of the thrusts the Philippines and the EU have already been working on.

Such complication had been evident in EU’s consistent refusal to deal with military junta-led Myanmar during talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The EU had also officially voiced its concern over extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and has provided technical assistance to solve this problem.

The EU is also heavily involved in aid projects in conflict areas in Mindanao.

"We see in the Philippines a reliable partner in regional and international fora, in ASEAN and in the UN. We have been happy to support your efforts to build peace in Mindanao," Mr. Moran said.

 source: BusinessWorld