Manila will have to join Asia-Pacific TPP trade bloc one day: minister

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Philippines will eventually have to join a market-opening trans-Pacific trade deal currently under negotiation once its market share, jobs and businesses start to suffer because of it, the country's finance minister said on Thursday.

The Philippines has not joined 12 other nations involved in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because of constitutional provisions limiting foreign ownership in some sectors it would need to open to join the pact.

"Ultimately we'll get there," the country's finance secretary, Cesar Purisima, told a seminar on the sidelines of the World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington.

Purisima said this was despite the fact that Philippine President Benigno Aquino had decided that the best use of his political capital was in dealing with challenges that do not require changing the constitution.

"That doesn't mean the Philippines won't step up to it, especially when the TPP is operational and you can see that it will be at a severe handicap for products that it competes with, especially with the four Asean members," he said, referring to Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia, which are part of the TPP talks.

Purisima said there was an initiative in the Philippines Congress, which was not supported by the president but was backed by some of his allies, to resolve the issue by adding the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law," to the constitution.

This would "move the problem away from the constitution to a more manageable legislative problem," he said.

"I think given time the Philippines will deal with this,"Purisima said. "When the case is very clear and ... we are losing our market share and jobs and businesses ... we will have no choice but to act."

Purisima said it would be better if the 10-member Asean as a whole was negotiating the TPP rather than just four of its members. "Individual Asean countries should not lose sight of the fact that individually they are very small," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.