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U.S. open to free trade agreement with PH

The United States is open to a free trade agreement with the Philippines, U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim said Thursday.

“The Philippine side has indicated their interest in doing a free trade agreement (FTA) with us. We’re willing to consider that possibility,” Kim told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

The Philippines raised the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement with U.S. during the bilateral talks between President Rodrigo Duterte and U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits.

Related: PH pushes for free-trade agreements with U.S.

During the meeting, Trump singled out how tariffs were imposed on U.S. automobiles, but not ones from Japan. Tariff reduction for Japan is provided for under the 2006 Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement, the only FTA the Philippines has with any country.

“We’ve explained the United States is open to trade, but we want reciprocal trade,” Trump said before departing the Philippines on Tuesday.

“Because with past administrations… the United States has been taken advantage of. They’re very giving, they don’t get in return,” he added.

Kim noted that one of Trump’s goals in his visit was to express “deep commitment to promoting fair and reciprocal trade.”

The Philippines has an existing Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the U.S., which is a requirement for countries working towards an FTA.

“We already have an existing trade framework that allows us to discuss economic, trade, investment-related issues. I think that process will continue, but we will explore the possibility of a free trade agreement,” said Kim.

The ambassador added that U.S. officials would hold a meeting in Washington later this month.

“That will be a good occasion to discuss outstanding issues but also look forward to what we can do in terms of preparing our way for free trade agreement negotiations,” he said.

Kim said the Philippines did a “wonderful job” of hosting ASEAN. He also called talks between the two presidents “very substantive [and] productive.”

The U.S. is the Philippines’ third largest trade partner, with exports to the Philippines amounting to $8.3 billion (P420 billion) in 2016. The U.S. was also the the country’s top market destination, with revenue hitting $802.59 million (P40.7 billion) as of September 2017.

Human rights, not EJKs, discussed

Kim also shed light on other aspects of the bilateral meeting. He clarified human rights, but not extrajudicial killings, were brought up.

“I can assure you that it was discussed…I don’t want to go into too much detail on the discussion between the two leaders,” said Kim. “But the President did not talk about some killings related to drugs explicitly.”

There was initial confusion after the bilateral meeting after the Malacañang Palace said the two leaders did not discuss human rights, while the White House said otherwise.

Related: Malacañang, White House release conflicting statements on human rights discussion

However, a joint statement from the bilateral meeting “underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential.”

The two countries also “agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs to promote the welfare of all sectors including the most vulnerable groups.” However, no programs were specified in the statement.

Related: PH-U.S. joint statement: Human rights are essential

Aid for drug reduction, Marawi

Kim also reiterated a pledge made in September for the U.S. to give $14.3 million (P730 million) to rehabilitation efforts in war-torn Marawi.

The White House said in a Wednesday statement the money will be used “to address the humanitarian needs of 360,000 displaced persons and to support stabilization and a speedy recovery.”

“We hope that we will be able to do more beyond the $14 million,” said Kim.

The ambassador also reiterated a $2 million (P102 million) in assistance for drug “demand reduction activities.”

“We are very pleased to support a comprehensive anti-drug effort in the Philippines including demand reduction, rehabilitation and of course law enforcement cooperation,” said Kim.

“I think in a way, we will look to find additional sources of funding to support other aspects of the anti-drug campaign,” he added.

CNN Philippines digital producers Chad de Guzman and VJ Bacungan contributed to this story.

SOURCE: CNN

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