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Manila to work with EU on free trade — Duterte

THE PHILIPPINES would keep working with the European Union (EU) on issues including free trade and investment, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Wednesday as he got a visit from the bloc’s ambassador-designate.

“The Philippines is ready to work constructively with the EU for the greater good of our peoples,” Mr. Duterte told Luc Véron, Ambassador-designate of the EU to the Philippines after accepting his credentials at the presidential palace, the latter said in a statement on Thursday.

The country would also work with the EU to mitigate climate change, boost humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, said the President, who earlier accused the EU of holding up the supply of coronavirus vaccines.

Mr. Duterte said the country would continue to “redefine, refine and reinforce” its ties with the EU in the face of new challenges.

“Our priority is to intensify trade and investment through a free trade agreement,” he said. “We wish to partner with the EU to protect and promote all rights of all, especially the human rights of migrant workers.”

Last week, Mr. Duterte accused the EU of holding up coronavirus supplies from other countries, citing the bloc’s export rule that requires drug makers to obtain permission first before shipping vaccines outside the region.

The rule was imposed after British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca Plc failed to meet its scheduled vaccine delivery to the EU.

Mr. Duterrte said the issue was getting the supplies as big powers such as the EU not only buy up doses in bulk but have threatened to restrict exports of certain COVID-19 vaccines. “AstraZeneca was held hostage by the European Union,” he said early this month.

He said Southeast Asian nations are not as powerful as the EU and they don’t have connections to ensure sufficient access to the vaccines.

“The country is a friend to all and enemy to none,” his spokesman Harry L. Roque, Jr. said at a televised news briefing in Filipino on Thursday. “The President has seen that the country’s ties with the EU has benefited Filipinos. There is no reason to end their relations.”

Mr. Duterte would prioritize the national interest, Mr. Roque said.

“The EU and its member-states will continue their efforts to contribute to the international response to the pandemic including guaranteeing affordable and fair access to vaccines for all,” Mr. Véron had told the President.

The Philippines and the EU share a “deep respect for democracy and the rule of law,” Mr. Duterte said. “This will serve as a solid foundation for robust cooperation on the basis of mutual trust, respect, and benefit.”

The international community has condemned Mr. Duterte’s drug war that has killed thousands of suspected pushers.

Congress also rejected a plea by ABS-CBN Corp., a media network critical of the government, to have its franchise renewed.

Mr. Duterte in 2017 warned EU ambassadors living in Manila that he would cut diplomatic ties with the bloc and would order them to leave the country for interfering in the country’s affairs.

The European Parliament last year adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission to immediately start the procedure for the revocation of generalized scheme of preferences (GSP+) status enjoyed by the Philippines, citing the government’s failure to improve the human rights situation in the country.

“The EU and the Philippines have developed a strong economic and trade partnership characterized, despite the crisis, by substantial trading goods balance in favor of your country worth P715 billion,” Mr. Véron told the tough-talking Philippine leader.

Mr. Duterte also accepted the credentials of envoys Antonio Jose Maria de Souza e Silva of Brazil, Kim Inchul of South Korea, Michele Jeanine Boccoz of France and Marcela Ordoñez of Columbia. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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