Press Release
September 6, 2006

As there is a need for consolidated negotiations stance:

Stressing the need for a clear and consolidated position in international trade negotiations, particularly in the World Trade Organization (WTO), Senator Mar Roxas, chairman of both Senate Trade and Economic Affairs committees, pushed for the creation of a Philippine Trade Representative Office (PTRO).

In his keynote speech delivered for a forum held by the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCPD), Senator Roxas said the negotiations stance of the government would be more consolidated, and the mandateas well as the accountabilityof trade negotiators would be clearer.

Sa ngayon, mahirap ispelingin kung ano ang direksyon natinnagiging sporadic, nagiging opportunistic o walang coherence, he observed.

The senator, who served as Trade Secretary from 2001 to 2004 and who sat in the WTO Doha and Cancun ministerial meetings as the Philippines chief negotiator, said the creation of PTRO will pave the way for a more institutionalized approach to trade negotiations, rather than a personalistic approach, or one which is dependent on who the Trade or Agriculture secretary is at a given point in time.

So there could be regularity and predictability in the countrys entire position, from agriculture all the way to services, he said.

He said the creation of such trade office would institutionalize the process of gathering positions of various stakeholders in various sectorsfarmers, workers, industrialists, non-government organizations, etc.and the prioritization and consolidation of such into a country position. The PTRO will also facilitate the deployment, to the fullest use, of the know-how of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials accumulated through years of trade negotiations.

Furthermore, there should be political backing to obtain consensus and a general sense of who and what they represent or [what to] expect from the negotiations, and thereafter, obtain political blessing not only from the President but down to the Cabinet secretaries. In this way, there is predictability of the governments position, there is a clear mandate.

At present, separate agencies deal with trade negotiations in both multilateral (i.e. WTO) and bilateral (i.e. individual and regional Free Trade Agreements) levels. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) serves as the de-facto lead agency in most international trade negotiations, particularly the WTO).

Trade policy-making is done by consensus in the Tariff and Related Matters (TRM) Committee, which is composed of the secretaries or heads of various agencies, including the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Agriculture (DA). The secretaries of DA and NEDA also sit with the DTI secretary in WTO negotiations in representing the agriculture and services sectors, respectively.

Senator Roxas filed Senate Bill No. 2236 which seeks the creation of the PTRO, and which seeks the appointment by the President of a Philippine Trade Representative and three deputies who shall all hold the rank of ambassador and subjected to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.

The Philippine Trade Representative will have a fixed term of six years, while each of his deputies will stay in their posts for six, four, and two years, respectively, and can be re-appointed only once. Apart from performing the role of the countrys chief trade negotiator, the Trade Representative shall provide the President advice on trade policy and act as his/her chief spokesperson on international trade agreements.

Senator Roxas also explained that the creation of PTRO will not entail a major expense on the part of the government, as existing offices within DTI, DA, NEDA and other government agencies dealing with trade negotiations will be consolidated under such body. From what he sees, expenses that will be required by the body will be for the conduct of econometric and under studies to guide it in formulating its negotiations stance.

So magiging mas malinaw, mas accountable. I dont think that expense and bureaucratic sort of turfing will be a battle, he added.

The forum by FTA and PLCPD discussed the urgent need for the PTRO. It was held at the Senate compound and was attended by various sectors, such as non-government organizations and the academe.

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