Latin American countries see PH as gateway to closer trade ties with ASEAN

Cathy Yang, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 17 2018 08:51 PM | Updated as of Oct 24 2018 07:45 AM

MANILA - Latin American nations are seeking to forge closer trade ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and see the Philippines as a gateway to the region, several Latin American ambassadors said Wednesday.

Because of Latin America's shared history and culture with the Philippines, the ambassadors said the country can be a bridge between the two regions. 

Chile's Ambassador Jose Miguel Capdevila said his country, which is a member of the Pacific Alliance trade bloc, has been negotiating trade agreements with 5 ASEAN members, including the Philippines. 

Besides Chile, the Pacific Alliance also includes Colombia, Mexico and Peru. 

Capdevila said he expects Chile and the Philippines to sign a trade agreement by next year. 

“It’s going to encompass essentially the exchange of goods, basically on the first stage. Then there's going to be an evolving clause that perhaps in a later stage we will add some services investments and other areas,” Capdevila said in an exclusive interview with The Boss on ANC. 

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Argentina's Ambassador Jose Nestor Ureta said the Philippines has an important role to play in fostering trade between Southeast Asia and Latin America. 

"The Philippines, because of the ties that we have been talking about, has to be the main bridge between our countries and the ASEAN countries," Ureta said. 

Brazilian Ambassador Rodrigo Do Amaral Souza meanwhile said that while his country seeks closer ties with Southeast Asia, a free trade agreement between his country's trade bloc and ASEAN was not yet likely. 

"I think conditions are still not right for a Mercosur-ASEAN free trade agreement," Souza said. 

Mercosur, or Common Market of the South, includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. 

He said that Mercosur is already negotiating a deal with Singapore and hopes that the bloc can also have an agreement with the Philippines. 

"We hope that soon, conditions will be ready for Mercosur to negotiate with the Philippines," Souza added. 

Colombia's Ambassador Hugo Echeverri meanwhile said that Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance both recognize the importance of ASEAN and the Philippines even as they strengthen their own blocs. 

"Now we have the opportunity to go together besides strengthening the inter-regional relationships to move to our natural partner that could be Southeast Asia," Echeverri said. 

Mexico's Ambassador Gerardo Lozano said his country also seeks to negotiate a trade agreement with the Philippines, but trade issues with other countries had been occupying Mexico's attention.

"This year has been a hard year for Mexico," Lozano said citing negotiations over NAFTA or the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as trade with the European Union. 

Panama's Ambassador Rolando Guevara said the Philippines and his country share a common interest in shipping, with Filipino seafarers making up around 60 percent of the manpower on Panamanian-registered vessels. 

"To enhance this bilateral relationship with the Philippines will help pave the way for other Latin American countries in terms of using shipping via the Panama Canal for the movement of goods," Guevara said. 

Venezuelan Ambassador Capaya Rodriguez meanwhile noted that there are many Filipinos working in Venezuela's state oil company. She said that the Philippines could also opt to import cheaper oil from Venezuela.