Free trade negotiations with UAE expected to wrap up by October

THE PHILIPPINES hopes to conclude negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on their proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) as early as October, the Philippine Exporters Confederation (Philexport) said.

In a bulletin, the association quoted Trade Undersecretary Allan B. Gepty as saying that he hopes to finish talks with the UAE before the year ends.

“Our agreement with the UAE is to conclude the negotiations within the year. We’re looking at October or November,” Mr. Gepty said.

The Philippines and the UAE planned four full rounds of face-to-face negotiations aside from virtual meetings to move things along. 

“The first round was held in May 2024, and they are now set to conduct the second round, focused on market access negotiations, from July 8 to July 10 in Manila,” he added.

CEPA is a free trade agreement (FTA) aimed at expanding trade and investment opportunities with the UAE and the greater Gulf region.

In December, the Philippines and the UAE signed the terms of reference for the CEPA, setting guidelines for the conduct of the negotiations and the scope and coverage of the FTA.

The Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Employment, and Environment and Natural Resources, the Tariff Commission, Board of Investments, and the Bureau of Customs are joining the talks as negotiations progress. 

“Working groups are being created to negotiate the relevant chapters of the ToR, which include trade in goods, rules of origin, trade in services, digital trade, customs procedures and trade facilitation, investment, intellectual property rights, and trade and sustainable development,” it added.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it sees opportunities to access the UAE market for halal-related products, tropical fruit, garments, and high-end finished consumer goods.

“Some of the Filipino food and other agri-based products with unrealized export potential in the UAE include banana, desiccated coconut, coconut oil, pineapple, and raw cane sugar. Also with much potential are personal care products, including perfumes and eye makeup,” it added.

Tradeline Philippines reported that total trade between the Philippines and UAE grew 5% to $1.9 billion in 2023.

“If realized, the PH-UAE CEPA will be the first FTA of the Philippines with a member state of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and in the entire Middle East,” Philexport said.

“It will also be the Philippines’ fourth bilateral FTA after the Philippine-South Korea FTA signed in 2023, the Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement in 2006, and the Philippine-European Free Trade Association FTA in 2016,” it added. — Justine Irish D. Tabile