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18 March 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Philippines and the United States renewed their commitment to a partnership for mutual prosperity in the 21st century in a meeting under their Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) held on 16 March 2016 in Washington, D.C.

The Philippine delegation was led by Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo, and composed of Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano, Intellectual Property Office (IPO) Director General Josephine Santiago, DTI Assistant Secretary Anne Robeniol, and other officials from DTI, DA, IPO, Department of Health, Civil Aeronautics Board, and the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C.

In their opening remarks, Undersecretary Rodolfo and Ambassador Robert Holleyman, Deputy US Trade Representative for Asia and the Pacific, emphasized the strength and vitality of Philippines-US economic relations, and the importance of the TIFA meetings in maintaining open channels of communication between the two countries on trade and investment matters.

First held in 2002, the annual TIFA meeting is a consultative mechanism established by the Philippines and the United States to periodically review the status of the bilateral economic relationship. It provides a forum to address specific issues and concerns of interest to both countries with a view to improving cooperation and enhancing opportunities for trade and investments.

“The storyline of Philippines-US TIFA meetings has always been about working together constructively in order to address outstanding issues and mutually benefit from various opportunities. We have a very good story as we were able to work through a number of issues in the past; and in order to make our story more compelling, we are in constant search for elements to enhance such storyline,” noted Undersecretary Rodolfo.

The morning of the day-long meeting was devoted to discussing the keen interest of the Philippines in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). USTR officials provided an extensive and substantive briefing to the Philippine delegation on key TPP chapters of interest, including IPR, investment, government procurement, sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, customs and rules of origin, competition and state-owned enterprises, and dispute settlement. They also briefly touched on horizontal chapters – SMEs, development, business facilitation and competitiveness, and cooperation and capacity building.  The two sides agreed to have further technical consultations on TPP outcomes, including through video-conferences or personal meetings among Embassy officials in Manila or Washington D.C.

Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz briefly joined the TIFA meeting to discuss developments in Philippine labor law and practice. The discussions built on earlier talks, including in the new TIFA Labor Committee, which held its first meeting early this month.

The meeting also discussed other key bilateral issues, including investment, customs, intellectual property rights, agricultural trade issues, and the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

Particularly on agriculture, the two sides engaged in extensive discussions of developments in the Philippines on regulation of agricultural biotechnology products, tariff concessions, and customs valuation. There was also a discussion on the US' proposed seafood traceability program to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud, and market access for Philippine mangoes and young coconuts in the United States.

“With agriculture's increasing importance in the bilateral relationship, the forum was also a good opportunity to update the US on the Philippines' ongoing regulatory reform for agricultural and fishery products,” Agriculture Undersecretary Serrano said.

Finally, there was an exchange of views on how to intensify cooperation on WTO, APEC, and ASEAN issues, including the WTO Information Technology Agreement Expansion and WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, as well as a Philippine proposal in APEC on ways to continue to support micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises’ participation in international trade.  The two sides will also work closely together as the Philippines prepares to chair ASEAN in 2017, including on the new US-ASEAN Trade Workshops agreed by Economic Ministers at the US-ASEAN TIFA meeting held in San Francisco last 17 February.

“This year’s TIFA meeting, which takes place on the 70th anniversary of Philippines-US diplomatic relations, clearly demonstrated the excellent state of our bilateral economic relations. The removal of the Philippines from the Special 301 Watchlist on intellectual property rights and the closure of the GSP country review on labor rights are also important milestones brought about by the work done under the ambit of the TIFA process,” Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said in a statement. ###