The U.S. Trade Representative this week announced progress in talks with the Philippines under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). U.S. dairy producers and processors appreciate the administration’s work to preserve and deepen market access ties with a country that purchased $243 million in U.S. dairy products in 2017, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) said.

In a joint statement released about the recent achievements in resolving trade issues under the TIFA, both governments agreed that they should work together to benefit agriculture. This is viewed as a promising development, given Southeast Asia’s growing market for dairy products, the dairy organizations said.

U.S. officials noted that the Philippines has been handling geographical indications (GIs) in a fair manner that preserves the use of common names and welcomed their commitment to “discuss ways to ensure that Philippine laws, regulations, and policies do not restrict or prohibit entry of U.S. products in the Philippine market.”

To further that goal, the Philippines confirmed that “it will not provide automatic GI protection, including to terms exchanged as part of a trade agreement.” Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based USDEC, said this assurance is significant because of the European Union’s ongoing campaign to use GIs to block U.S. dairy sales.

“The Philippine economy is strengthening, its population is growing, and more consumers are moving up into the middle class,” Vilsack said. “In short, there is tremendous potential for greater U.S. dairy sales in the Philippines, and this week’s announcement gets us a step closer to realizing this opportunity. USTR’s work to keep those doors open today and pursue ways to crack them open further in the future is certainly appreciated by dairy producers and processors across the country.”

Jim Mulhern, president of NMPF, also headquartered in Arlington, said developments are positive for dairy producers facing economic challenges.

“The rural economy is having a rough time, dairy prices are low, and our farmers are struggling,” Mulhern said. “Trade will be key to turning things around. USTR’s work to forge positive pathways with the Philippines is a building block in that process. The next step is to move forward with a free trade agreement to allow our industry to compete head to head with other suppliers in the region.”

U.S. negotiators also secured a commitment from the Philippines to consider petitions for voluntarily lowering tariff rates on certain agricultural products, including cheeses. This is a step in the right direction toward U.S. exporters bridging the competition gap created by trade agreements between the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, the organizations said.