PHL and South Korea seek free trade pact

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The Philippines and South Korea reiterated the urgency to conclude their free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations soon in order to strengthen economic cooperation.

The Department of Commerce and Industry (DTI), in a statement released over the weekend, said Commerce Secretary Ramon Lopez and South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Kim In-Chul recently met to discuss their country’s political orientation to strengthen bilateral trade relations.

“Both officials stressed the need to immediately conclude the ongoing PHL-ROK [Republic of Korea] negotiation of a free trade agreement to improve market access for products key to the interests of the two countries, ”the Commerce Department said.

Trade officials from the two countries also discussed cooperation on innovation and the automotive industry.

Earlier this year, Under Secretary of Commerce Ceferino Rodolfo told reporters they aimed to settle FTA negotiations with South Korea by June. The FTA negotiations were launched in 2019.

The Philippines is considering reducing or even lifting tariffs on agricultural products shipped to Korea, especially bananas, as part of the free trade agreement.

Currently, banana shipments from the country to Seoul are subject to a 30 percent duty. This puts the Philippines at a disadvantage as Central American countries and Vietnam enjoy or will receive preferential treatment on their banana exports to South Korea.

South Korea, meanwhile, is asking the Philippines to eliminate the 5% tariff for vehicles 3,000cc and less.

After the first shipment of okra (lady’s fingers) to South Korea this month, DTI said the country was eager to deliver more agricultural exports.

Exports of fresh green okra pods will initially come from the province of Tarlac. There are currently four local okra exporters, including Jelfarm Fresh Produce Enterprise; Greenstar Produce, Philippines Inc .; AAMC Foods Corp .; and Hi-Las Marketing Corp.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the country’s exports to South Korea fell 22.1 percent to $ 2.53 billion last year, from $ 3.24 billion year-on-year. Imports from South Korea, meanwhile, amounted to $ 6.68 billion last year, down 21.2 percent from $ 8.48 billion in 2019.

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