Sto. Tomas, Batangas — The Philippines is eyeing to return to the negotiating table for the possible free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU), Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said Wednesday.

The EU GSP+ agreement grants the Philippines zero duties on 6,274 locally-made products, as long as the country meets the requirements regarding human and labor rights, the environment, and good governance.

Pascual, however, said that as the Philippine government is working towards making the country an upper middle income economy, members of EP DROI  “reminded me about that…”

“[S]oon, the Philippines will be an upper middle income country, and as an upper middle income country, the Philippines will no longer be eligible for GSP+,” Pascual told reporters at the sidelines of Mega Global’s inauguration of its third manufacturing plant here.

“So that opened the discussion for me to bring up what I have been pushing for which is the resumption of our discussion on a full-fledged free trade agreement between the Philippines and EU,“ Pascual said.

The exploratory FTA talks between the Philippines and the EU began in 2013, while the launching of negotiations was announced in December 2015.

The first FTA negotiations were held in Brussels, Belgium in 2016, followed by second round negotiations in Cebu, Philippines in 2017.

“They were of course receptive to that idea. I explained to them also the benefits that European companies are gaining from this convention,” Pascual said.

“I had a very productive meeting with the delegation from the EU Parliament. It is a rainbow coalition, contingent, representing a wide range of political parties that have representatives in the EU Parliament,” Pascual said.

“We talked about the obligations of the Philippines with respect to labor, human rights, environment, and governance. And I explained that it doesn’t require an EU obligation for us to follow the principles that they are looking for… With or without the requirements of the EU, we are observing the principles that they are interested in. I think I got a good feedback from them on my statement,” he said.

In his first State of the Nation Address in July last year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said his administration is looking to bring the Philippines to “upper-middle income status by 2024” with “at least $4,256 income per capita.”

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan has said that achieving the target would be delayed a year later than expected “due to the sharp contraction of the economy in 2020 and the sharp depreciation of the peso.”

Marcos has said that the goal would be attained “very soon.”

In 2019, the Philippines was categorized as a lower-middle income country with a GNI per capita of between $1,006 and $3,955.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed the country’s GNI per capita stood at P182,438 (about $3,300) in 2021, higher than the peak of the pandemic year 2020 of P177,546 (about $3,200) but still lower than the pre-pandemic GNI per capita of P200,135 (about $3,600) in 2019. — RSJ, GMA Integrated News