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Philippines - next to join the TPP?

As President Barack Obama ended his week-long tour of Asia in the Philippines on Tuesday, the country's Secretary of Trade & Industry told CNBC that the Philippines is eager to join the TPP.

Following Obama's talk with Filipino President Beningo Aquino, headlines focused on a military pact announced on Monday. The pact will grant a larger presence for U.S. forces, boosting the Philippines' maritime security; though it was stressed the pact was not aimed at countering China's military strength.

However, Gregory Domingo, Secretary of Trade & Industry for the Philippines, told CNBC that trade was another a key topic of conversation, noting discussions about the country joining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) had progressed.

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"The Philippines will work to ascertain [that] our participation in TPP can be realized. The U.S. and other TPP members have offered to assist us in this assessment," he said.

The U.S.-led TPP is a free-trade agreement under negotiation by 12 countries and aims to eliminate trade barriers between countries and boost global trade.

In this handout provided by Malacanang Photo Bureau', US president Barack Obama shakes hands with Philippine President Benigno Aquino at the presidential palace on April 28, 2014 in Manila, Philippines.
Getty Images News
In this handout provided by Malacanang Photo Bureau', US president Barack Obama shakes hands with Philippine President Benigno Aquino at the presidential palace on April 28, 2014 in Manila, Philippines.

The Philippines' involvement in the pact has been discussed in the past, but had met with opposition at home after it was suggested that inclusion would require amending the Philippine Constitution.

With an annual economic growth rate of 7.2 percent in 2013 - one of the fastest growth rates in the world - the archipelago's participation in the global trade deal could give it a substantial boost.

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Domingo countered previous resistance to the pact, noting there is a strong desire from the Philippines to be part of it.

"Studies have shown the TPP benefits the Philippines, who are really very interested in pursuing this pact," he said.

Many industry watchers have grown frustrated with progress on the TPP which has encountered a number of stumbling blocks, particularly from Japan where many protected industries are concerned about the impacts of opening up to foreign competition.

Domingo said he had got the impression that the TPP was on its way to being finalized, however.

"The news we got from their side [the U.S.] is that they were quite positive about progress on the TPP, and I think at some point TPP will come. In fact their expectations are sooner rather than later," he added.

The China angle

Territorial spats between the Philippines and China in the potentially oil and gas rich South China Sea heated up in recent years. The military pact between the U.S. and the Philippines is being viewed as an effort by Washington to counter Chinese aggression in the region.

Domingo told CNBC he was not concerned about any deterioration in the trade relationship between the Philippines and China.

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"Throughout this crisis...with China, we didn't notice any significant movements on the trade and investment side to the negative," he said.

"We really pursued peaceful resolution to this through legal means and we remain friendly to China...and there is really no animosity towards them or the state," he added.

The Philippines is a former U.S. colony and has been a strategic asset for the U.S. military since the Spanish American war at the end of the 19th century. 3.4 million Filipino-Americans live in the U.S.