WTO praises PH gov’t for trade, economic, investment reforms

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has praised the Philippine government for the trade, economic, and investment policy reforms it has undertaken in recent years and for its unwavering commitment to the multilateral trading system.

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) has praised the Philippine government for the trade, economic, and investment policy reforms it has undertaken in recent years and for its unwavering commitment to the multilateral trading system.

The acclamation was issued by the Trade Policy Review Body of the WTO General Council during the fifth review of the trade policies and practices of the Philippines which took place on March 26 and 28.

Trade Policy Reviews are an exercise, mandated in the WTO agreements, in which member-countries’ trade and related policies are examined and evaluated at regular intervals. Significant developments that may have an impact on the global trading system are also monitored. All WTO members are subject to review, with the frequency of review depending on the country’s size.

The 22 members of the Trade Policy Review Body applauded the policy reforms undertaken by the Philippines particularly in the area of investment, customs, competition, intellectual property, and government procurement.

During the review, the review body also recognized the Philippines’ contribution in promoting the work in the WTO on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

They likewise commended the Philippines’ impressive economic performance since its last TPR in 2012.

It was pointed out that real GDP had grown at an average annual rate of about 6 percent in 2012-17, per-capita GDP had increased, and poverty declined.

Trade played an important role in the review period, according to the members of the review body, which was marked by strong growth of manufactured exports, in particular of electronics and electrical goods, as well as by buoyant exports of services.

In addition, the members of the review body welcomed the improvements in the Philippines’ foreign investment regime, such as allowing 100 percent foreign ownership in the banking sector and liberalizing access to certain professional services.

They also welcomed the implementation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act aimed at streamlining customs rules and procedures and the improvement of intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection, including the establishment of the Bureau of Copyrights.

While recognizing the advances made by the Philippines, the review body noted that several concerns remain.

It was pointed out that, despite increased infrastructure investment, substantial gaps remained and foreign participation in infrastructure development was hindered by FDI restrictions, notably in utility projects.

It was also noted that further domestic reforms in areas such as investment and government procurement were needed to enhance the competitiveness of the economy and attract foreign investment. Some members raised concerns over market access conditions for foreign suppliers in public procurement and encouraged the Philippines to improve them. Some members encouraged the Philippines to consider joining the WTO Plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement which regulates the government procurement of goods and services by the public authorities of the parties to the agreement, based on the principles of openness, transparency and nondiscrimination.

As indicated in numerous advance written questions and interventions, caps on foreign direct investment in some sectors or activities remained a concern.

Questions were also raised regarding what some members of the review body considered to be high capital requirements for foreign investment in the retail business.

Several members of the review body also expressed reservations regarding the preshipment inspection requirements. Although they recognized the efforts made to combat corruption in customs services, it was noted that there was room for improvement of the business environment, including by reducing the complexity of the permit and licensing regime in certain sectors.

A number of members sought further clarification from the Philippines concerning the general direction of the agricultural reform process, in particular with regard to steps taken to reform the import regime and the high level of support for rice.

The Philippines was likewise encouraged to liberalize its regime reserving certain cargo to be shipped by Philippines’ flag vessels, and also to review foreign equity limitations in telecommunications.

Source: https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/04/02/wto-praises-ph-govt-for-trade-economic-investment-reforms/

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