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Free trade ‘took back seat’ under Duterte – trade expert

The free trade movement in the Philippines “took back seat” as the Duterte administration shifted the government focus to addressing the ills of society, according to a Philippine trade expert.

During the Asia-Pacific Forum 2017 on Integration and Inclusiveness in a Digital Society, Dr. Thomas Aquino, former undersecretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, claimed the current administration is prioritizing issues that confront the Philippine leadership, such as the integration of the Philippine society via new legislation and the challenges facing Mindanao, while pushing the free trade movement to the back seat.

This is manifested in the country’s stand on bilateral relationships, which according to Aquino, have already gravitated toward basic issues, such as respect for sovereignty and other domestic priorities.

Specifically, the trade expert expressed disappointment on the manner the President handled himself during the 31st Asean Summit held in the country recently, where “very little came out from him with respect to, not just regional, not just bilateral but also on any international issues.”

Asean stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which include the Philippines as a member-state.

Unfortunately, such nationalistic sentiments tend to pressure the governments in the economic bloc to advocate for more restrictive and inward-looking policies that limit economic growth and trade in the region, said Dr. Yose Rizal Damuri, chief economist of Indonesia-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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