Updates on Negotiations between the EFTA and the Philippines

By Dan Napa

On the morning of June 20, 2017, Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines Andrea Reichlin opened the doors of her lovely residence to host breakfast for a select audience. The breakfast meeting was held in order to discuss updates on the recently concluded negotiations between the Philippines and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) nations of which Switzerland is a part of. On April 27, 2016, the Philippines signed a comprehensive FTA with EFTA comprising of four of the world’s wealthiest nations — Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

The Swiss Embassy, in partnership with the Philippine Swiss Business Council (PSBC), invited Director Brenda Mendoza of the National Economic and Development Authority, and Director Atty. Marjorie Ramos-Samaniego of the Board of Investments under DTI.

The breakfast meeting is a part of a series of discussions between leaders representing Swiss business interests in the Philippines and representatives from the Philippine government as a dialogue to enhance and ratify trade deals, with the goal of having a win-win for EFTA states and the Philippines.

The first speaker, Director Brenda Mendoza of NEDA, was in the panel of negotiators when the agreement was being finalized in Europe. Her discussion focused mainly on the salient features of the agreement with the EFTA and the implications of the upcoming ratification. Her talk also showed the top commodities and services being traded between the two bodies. Overall, the Philippines is looking at benefiting from EFTA’s vast industries in the areas of shipbuilding, iron and steel, automotive and automotive parts and components, aerospace and information technology-business process management (IT-BPM), and chemicals.

In terms of shipbuilding, Norway has the most advanced industry and the Philippines hopes to tap this opportunity to build the capability of its booming shipbuilding and ship repair sector. The Philippines also sees potential exports in creative services which include editing, sound mixing, dubbing, animation, and computer graphics.

In 2014, the top Philippine exports to the EFTA member states included gold in semi-manufactured forms, digital monolithic integrated circuits, aircraft parts, printed circuits, artificial teeth, and silver. Philippine imports from EFTA included medical equipment, diagnostic or laboratory reagents, parts of airplanes or helicopters, and wrist watches.

The second speaker was Director Atty. Marjorie Ramos-Samaniego from the BOI. Working under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the BOI serves as a liaison between the government and potential investors. The BOI aims to create a favorable business climate for investors who are looking to expand into foreign territories — something which the EFTA would like to expand in the list of cross-benefits that can be enjoyed by both the Philippines and the EFTA states. For example, Switzerland has 28 FTS with 38 partners outside the European Union. The Philippines is Switzerland’s sixth largest trading partner in Southeast Asia. Swiss companies in the Philippines include Nestle, DKSH, SGS, Novartis and Zuellig.

The discussion by the speakers was brief and the following exchange between the attendees was kept light and relevant, thanks to the excellent moderating by the Ambassador herself. A lot of questions were raised regarding inefficiencies in the Philippine government being experienced by Swiss companies, which were met by promises of action and investigation by the esteemed speakers. After the discussion, a short exchange of pleasantries followed, and the breakfast forum was concluded.

About the author:

Dan is currently a supervising sales consultant at the Executive Search and Selection division of John Clements Consultants, Inc.