The Philippines’ application to qualify for the European Union’s General System of Preferences Plus (GSP plus) is one step closer to final approval by the EU Parliament with the recent favorable endorsement of the Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA). There was an attempt to block the grant of GSP Plus status to the Philippines at the Committee level, but was voted down. INTA’s action paves the way for the European Parliament to decide on the Philippines’ application in Plenary on 18 December 2014.

The decision of the Committee came on the heels of a final push from a high level Philippine delegation to present the country’s case to the INTA and the GSP Monitoring Group in a joint committee hearing at the EU Parliament in Strasbourgh, France. The delegation was led by Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal Jr. and composed of Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano, Department of Labor and Employment Undersecretary Rebecca Chato, and other officials from the Philippine Missions in Brussels and Geneva.

The Meeting in Strasbourg was chaired by Member of European Parliament (MEP) Christofer Fjellner from Sweden, the Principal Rapporteur of the GSP Monitoring Group in the European Parliament.

During the meeting, Undersecretary Cristobal presented the importance of GSP+ to the Philippines, citing the country’s impressive economic gains, good governance and anti-corruption reforms. “We have the momentum for sustained economic growth that can substantially reduce poverty in the country. A critical element for sustained growth is boosting trade with the rest of the world, and the GSP+ can create over 200,000 new jobs in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors in its early years of implementation. Most of these jobs will be in rural areas outside the major cities where they are needed the most,” Cristobal said.

DA Undersecretary Serrano stressed the importance of the Fisheries sector, which could benefit immensely from GSP Plus, to the Philippine economy while DOLE Undersecretary Chato assured the Committee that the Philippines abides by its commitments in the various conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The Philippines is currently a beneficiary of the EU GSP where 2,442 products from the Philippines are exported at zero duty while 3,767 are subject to reduced tariffs. With the inclusion of the Philippines in the EU GSP+ scheme, the Philippines will get to enjoy zero duty for all 6,274 covered products, translating to increase in the country’s exports to the EU, resulting to more employment opportunities.

Recalling the devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan in the Eastern and Western Visayas and thanking the EU for their generous assistance, Undersecretary Cristobal concluded that “the EU GSP+ privilege is really a game changer for us, where hundreds of thousands of jobs in the countryside and in disaster stricken areas will be created in the short and medium term. It complements our growth strategy as well as our rehabilitation efforts in areas hard hit by typhoon Haiyan last year.”

Early this year, the European Commission (EC) formally accepted the GSP+ application of the Philippines. The Commission reviewed the Philippine application, and favorably endorsed it to the two legislative bodies of the EU, namely, the Council of Ministers of the European Union (The Council) and the European Parliament (EP). Within two months, the Council issued a formal notice of “No Objection” to the proposal. The European Parliament however, requested for an additional two months to review the recommendation of the Commission. With the extension, the European Parliament must decide on the proposal not later than 18 December this year.

To date, thirteen (13) countries have been granted GSP+ privileges by the European Union. If approved by the European Parliament, the Philippines would be the 14th beneficiary country of the EU GSP+ and the only GSP+ beneficiary in ASEAN, Cristobal concluded.

EU is the Philippines’ 4th largest trading partner in 2013, with total bilateral trade registered at US$ 12.8 billion. It ranks fourth as an export market for the Philippine products, accounting for 11.56% of total Philippine exports.