(UPDATE) PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. returned from his visit to Brussels, Belgium, with P9.8 billion worth of investment pledges from European business executives.
Arriving at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City Thursday night, Marcos described his trip to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union (Asean-EU) Commemorative Summit as “very productive,” with European companies planning to expand their businesses in the Philippines.
“I am delighted that my first visit to Europe, in Brussels in particular, which has the seals of the European Commission, the Council of European Union, and the European Council, is a successful one, and I can see that the outcomes of this visit will generate opportunities for the benefit of the Filipino people,” the President said in his arrival speech.
He said “European business confidence in the Philippines is high as evidenced by the expansion plans of European companies that we met in the sectors of fast-moving consumer goods, in shipbuilding, renewable energy, and green metals. An estimated investment pledge of around P9.8 billion has been received.”
The President said all the business leaders he met on the sidelines of the Asean-EU summits have committed to invest in renewable energy, infrastructure, climate change, and food security initiatives.
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He said that in his opening remarks during the commemorative summit, he noted “the recent milestones in Asean-EU relations under the Philippines’ coordinatorship — the adoption of the Asean-EU Plan of Action for 2023 to 2027 and the successful conclusion of the first-ever Summit between Asean and EU Leaders.”
“And this is a very significant development that EU has turned very, very distinctly towards the Asia-Pacific region when it comes to the driving force behind the new global economy. And this is not really surprising considering that in terms of geopolitical aggrupation, the EU and the Asean are two of the most active, best organized, and cohesive organizations in the world,” he added.
Marcos also welcomed the adoption of the Joint Leaders’ Statement at the Asean-EU Commemorative Summit.
The President said the newly formed Asean-EU Business Council “has a pivotal role to play in advancing Asean’s regional economic integration and post-pandemic economic recovery efforts.”
He also said he was able to secure the commitment of leading European shipowners “to help our country hurdle some of the challenges in our seafarers’ European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) accreditation through the creation of an advisory council composed of our concerned government agencies, international and local shipowners and other stakeholders.”
Marcos explained to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “what we have done, that we have this new advisory council, and she made a promise that she would — that the Commission itself would provide technical help to us so that within the three months — we have a three-month deadline — we will be able to remedy all of the deficiencies that EMSA has been pointing out and hopefully we finally solve this problem.”
Marcos said he was granted an audience with the king of Belgium, who recalled his visit to the Philippines many years ago.
The President also held bilateral meetings with his counterparts from the European Council, the European Commission, Estonia, Sweden, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Spain.
He also met with Filipinos living in Belgium and nearby European countries like Italy, Poland and Germany.
“It was a very fulfilling event as I was able to personally thank them for their support. I was also able to hear their concerns and update them on the priorities of this administration,” he said.
During his meeting with Von der Leyen, Marcos also pushed for the resumption of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the Asean and the EU.
Marcos said the FTA would also bolster the country’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) accreditation that is under review by the Western European bloc.
“While the Philippines awaits the resumption of the PH-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations, we remain committed to maintain our EU GSP+ beneficiary status, serving as a stepping-stone towards this FTA,” Marcos told Von der Leyen and other European business leaders.
“We also have an FTA with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) namely, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, which provides the Philippines duty-free market access to all industrial and fisheries products to the Member States,” he added.
The EU has threatened to withdraw the Philippines’ GSP+ benefits, citing its “deep concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines” during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The GSP+, set to lapse in 2023, allows the tariff-free entry of more than 6,000 exports from the Philippines to the EU.
The unilateral trade arrangement offers zero tariffs on 6,274 products or 66 percent of all EU tariff lines.
To retain its GSP+ incentives, the Philippines must comply with 27 conventions on human and labor rights imposed by the EU.
Marcos said the Philippines is “the only Asean country” to benefit from the EU GSP.
Von der Leyen said the EU wants a “high level of accountability” for human rights violations, but it is open to all possibilities for strengthened cooperation in many areas, particularly trade.
“Let’s work on it,” she told Marcos, referring to talks on the renewal of the country’s GSP+ status.
Negotiations for the EU-Philippines FTA started in 2016. The last round of negotiations was held in Cebu City in 2017.
The negotiations have since been put on hold.