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Press Release:
Philippine negotiator criticized for supporting EU Proposal for bilateral trade negotiations

A civil society network monitoring trade talks between the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) criticized Philippine chief trade negotiator for supporting bilateral negotiations with the EU.

The EU-ASEAN Campaign network, with members in Europe and Southeast Asia assailed the statements made recently by Assistant Secretary Ramon Cabigting of the Department of Trade and Industry expressing support to the EU proposal to proceed with bilateral talks with the EU and expressing the country’s willingness to liberalize its services sector.

The EU-ASEAN FTA negotiations which were launched in May 2007 are mandated to follow a region to region approach which means that the negotiations would be between two regional blocks-EU and ASEAN. This approach was adopted by both EU and ASEAN in recognition of the disparities that exist between the two regions.

“The regional approach was supposed to address the development gaps and asymmetries within ASEAN and was supposed to ensure that the expected benefits from the deal would redound to all Member countries and not be cornered by the more developed ASEAN countries” according to Mr. Milo Tanchuling, Secretary-General of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) , and a member of the EU-ASEAN Campaign Network. As it is, countries like Singapore and Malaysia already get a lion-share of trade and investments from the EU.

“We are critical of these negotiations between EU and ASEAN because we do not feel that now is the time to be entering into binding economic agreements at a time of a global economic crisis” said Ms. Flora Santos of SANLAKAS .

“Contrary to the statements made by Asec. Cabigting, we do not believe that going through a bilateral track would address the specific concerns of Philippines. In fact we feel that the bilateral track would further undermine our interests. We only need to look at the JPEPA negotiations to see how poorly the Philippine government was able to safeguard our interests in a bilateral set-up” Mr. Pedro Pinlac of Kilusan Para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD) added.

The statements of Asec. Cabigting signals a break from ASEAN unity in these negotiations and also runs the risk of jeopardizing Philippine interests in the negotiations” said Mr. Pablo Rosales of the Kilusang Mangingisda (KM).

“We are concerned over Asec Cabigting’s gung ho attitude to liberalize the services sector. The Philippine economy is now a services-driven economy with the sector contributing close to 50% of Gross Domestic Product. “Trade negotiators should be a little more circumspect in offering up the Philippine services sector to foreigners, considering the increasing contribution and dependence of our economy on the sector” stressed Mr. Josua Mata of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL).

EU is eyeing the huge ASEAN market for services valued at over US$150 billion. EU corporations dominate the world market capturing 28.5 % of world trade in services.  (4 February 2009). #30

(For further details, please contact Mr. Sammy Gamboa, [email protected] and /or Mr. Joseph Purugganan, [email protected] ;phone: 433-0899)