Washington, USA, July 12, 2003 By JOSE KATIGBAK (STAR Washington Bureau) - The United States is looking forward to "positive and productive" air transport discussions with the Philippines next week to resolve differences over the implementation of their joint air treaty of 1982, a US government official said Thursday.

The official said the July 16-18 talks in Manila would center on cargo open skies and other passenger issues, including code sharing rights. However, the issue of full passenger open skies will not be on the agenda.

"Since August of last year, we have not been pursuing full open skies with the Philippines," the official told The STAR. "We are not proposing an open skies agreement. Eventually, someday in the future, we will. But not this round (of talks)."

The Philippines has been insisting on a deferment of open skies for passengers on the grounds it is not yet ready to fully open its skies to unlimited passenger flights from the US without hurting local airlines.

The Philippine panel will be headed by Transporation and Communications Undersecretary for Staff Services and Air Transport Edward Harun Pagunsan, who replaced Undersecretary Arturo Valdez, who had headed the panel since the start of the talks last year.

The Manila meeting is a follow-up to negotiations both sides held in Washington last February, which Filipino officials said collapsed over at least three contentious issues ó the Philippine request for a 10-year deferment of open skies for passengers and a US request for open skies for cargo and code-sharing rights.

Unless both sides can resolve their differences, the open skies provision of the 1982 RP-US Transport Agreement will automatically come into effect on Sept. 30, relaxing restrictions on passenger flights.

The provision for free and fair competition and open skies has been deferred five times over the years. The last deferment in 1995 stipulated the provision would be implemented on Sept. 30, 2003.

Asked if President Arroyo indicated during her state visit here in May whether the Philippines may be more receptive to reaching an agreement with the US to attract American investors to the country, the official said, "I canít speak fully to that, either to confirm or deny it."

Christopher Fedderson, who handles Philippine affairs in the US-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Council, said he was glad both sides would start talking again. ó With Rainier Allan Ronda

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved