Philippines-South Korea Free Trade Agreement moves on despite virus

The government of the Philippines is pushing on with negotiations to conclude its free-trade agreement with South Korea, but the trade deal’s finalization has been moved to November as the two sides deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

FTA talks between the Philippines and South Korea are proceeding as usual, although they are taking a different course lately in consideration of the ongoing crisis. This time, negotiators are doing rounds of discussion through video conferences, shunning the traditional table meetings in the thick of the virus spread.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told the BusinessMirror that the Philippine and South Korean negotiating teams last week conducted a video conference through Zoom—an online platform for video and audio conferencing, chat and webinars—to continue on with their deliberation of the trade deal’s provision on market access.

“They are proceeding,” Lopez said of FTA negotiations with South Korea. “We just had a Zoom meeting with Korean Trade Minister [Yoo Myung-hee] last Monday regarding FTA.” “Although timing of finalization [is now] moved to before November.”

It was the third time the FTA’s conclusion was deferred to a later date. Free-trade talks between Manila and Seoul began in June last year and negotiators then, riding high on optimism from none other than their principals, were targeting to come up with a package by November.

Under an FTA with South Korea, the Philippines is pushing for the reduction, if not elimination, of tariff rates on agricultural products, particularly bananas. Banana exports from the country are slapped with 30-percent duty by Seoul, making them less competitive compared to those shipped by Central American countries and Vietnam. Bananas from Peru are taxed zero rate at present in South Korea, and those from the Central Americas and Vietnam will enjoy similar preferential treatment by 2021 and 2024, respectively.


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