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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) targets to achieve a fivefold increase in trade and investments with the Philippines within three to five years once the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the free trade agreement between Manila and Abu Dhabi, enters into force.

Visiting Minister of State of Foreign Trade of the UAE, Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, met with officials of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on Friday to finalize the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the CEPA, which is the scoping stage of the free trade agreement (FTA).

In a Viber message, DTI Undersecretary Allan Gepty, who is also the country’s lead negotiator for FTAs, told the Philippine News Agency that formal negotiations on the CEPA would be launched after the signing of the TOR.

On the sidelines of the UAE-Philippines Business Forum in Taguig City on Friday, DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual and Al Zeyoudi said in a chance interview that both sides target to sign the TOR during the visit of the Philippine delegation to Dubai for the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference 28th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 28) next week.

The Philippine delegation to the COP 28 in Dubai will be led by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

“We want to grow five times the current (trade and investment) numbers in a few years, maybe three to five years. If that’s not going to be achieved, we’re not performing those agreements,” Al Zeyoudi said.

“Because at the end of the day, those agreements are going to bring more many opportunities for SMEs (small and medium enterprises), traders, investors, industries, and we want to see huge numbers and outcomes from those discussions.”

He said that in 2022, non-oil trade between the UAE and the Philippines grew more than double to USD1.9 billion.

“In the first half of 2023, we have seen that figure continue to grow, with non-oil trade maybe to increase by 20 percent in the whole year,” he added.

Al Zeyoudi said the UAE is looking forward to seeing more Filipino products in its market through the CEPA.

The CEPA is the Philippines’ FTA in the Middle East.

The foreign trade minister also shared that the CEPA would be comprehensive, covering areas of goods and services, investments, SMEs, digitalization, customs, governance, and sustainability, among others.

“We are open to discuss anything that is going to bring an added value to both nations,” he said.

Al Zeyoudi said he expects the formal FTA talks to be quick, similar to the pace that the UAE is doing with other countries, which only takes six months on average.

“We’re going to put pressure, so we’re going to conclude in six months. Hopefully in six months after the signing of the TOR,” he said. (PNA)