The Philippines and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are set to begin talks for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) next week, with the completion of negotiations eyed within the year.

Trade Undersecretary Allan Gepty told reporters that the Philippines and the UAE would hold the first round of negotiations for the CEPA from May 6 to 8 in Dubai.

He said the parties are looking to finish the negotiations for the free trade agreement (FTA) within the year, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Philippines and UAE's diplomatic relations.

'If we can conclude that within the year, then that would be a good milestone in our diplomatic relations, particularly economic relations,' he said.

He said the CEPA would go beyond providing market access and cover various areas such as digital trade, e-commerce, government procurement and movement of natural persons in relation to services.

For the first round of negotiations, he said the two countries would focus on the FTA text within the established terms of reference (TOR).

In December last year, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual and UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi signed the TOR, which serves as the first step for the proposed FTA, providing guidelines on the conduct of negotiations and scope and coverage of the deal.

Asked about issues that may be brought up during the negotiations, Gepty said there are several alignments when it comes to the trade and investment policy directions of the Philippines and the UAE.

'So that's why I'm confident that I think we can conclude the negotiation within the year,' he said.

He said the Philippines aims to secure preferential arrangement in the UAE for all products of interest such as agricultural and industrial products.

'If they can give us everything, of course we would like that. In our case, of course their target will be the same. But on the part of the Philippines, we informed them that we really have to consider also the sensitivities of certain sectors in the country,' he said, citing agricultural products as sensitive products for the Philippines.

At present, he said helicopter and aerospace parts are the country's top exports to the UAE, which is considered a strong player in the aerospace industry.

'So more than these parts, we are also eyeing services,' he said.

He said the CEPA is a very important free trade agreement for the Philippines, given the presence of many Filipino professionals and businesses in the UAE.

'So, definitely, the FTA will be a big help for them as far as a stable business environment is concerned. And, of course, in the same manner, it is also important for UAE investors here in the Philippines because, as always, a stable business environment would really encourage more investments in the country,' he said.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed total trade between the Philippines and UAE reached $1.88 billion in 2023.

In 2023, Philippine exports to UAE were valued at $341.97 million, while the country's imports from UAE amounted to $1.54 billion.

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