Business World | 1 March 2017
US refocuses on bilateral trade deals — ambassador
by Danica M. Uy
“The US administration has been very clear that they will be making sure of promoting free trade... and more focused on bilateral agreements,” said Mr. Kim during a general membership meeting at The Peninsula Manila on Tuesday.
Former Socioecomic Planning Secretary Cielito F. Habito said the Philippines should take advantage of Washington’s new bilateral approach, but may need to do it in a regional context.
“It’s in our interest to be able to reach a good agreement with the United States precisely because they are the biggest. They continue to be the biggest market in the world. So anybody would want to have a much better access to the United States market and anybody would have a better access to investments in the United States,” said Mr. Habito, currently a professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“So I think it’s very important to nurture that relationship,” said Mr. Habito.
However, according to Mr. Habito, a bilateral deal between the US and the ASEAN is more preferable as the Philippines is too small an economy to have sufficient standing to obtain a good deal with the US.
“If ASEAN can group together in negotiating for free trade with the United States, then that would be a more comfortable situation for us rather than one on one, especially because ASEAN already has bilateral trade agreements as a group with China, with India, with New Zealand, so why not with the United States?” said Mr. Habito.
He added that member states will likely welcome a US-ASEAN bilateral trade as most of the ASEAN still don’t have an FTA with the US.
“It might just fly,” he said.
Mr. Habito also noted that it’s possible that trade between the ASEAN and the US could be considered bilateral if the Trump administration considers ASEAN a single party.
In the same meeting, Ambassador Kim said the US will not be removing the visa requirements it imposed on the Philippines, although the US is “working hard” to make Filipino applications for visas “as painless as possible.”
“By legislation we have very strict requirements in how a country will qualify for inclusion in the visa waiver program,” said Mr. Kim.
“At the moment, the Philippines does not meet the requirements for inclusion in the visa waiver program,” he said.