DUBAI, Feb 15 (Reuters) – The Philippines and the United Arab Emirates, Manila’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East, agreed on Tuesday to start talks on a bilateral trade and investment pact, according to a joint statement released by the Philippine government.

Thousands of Filipinos also work in the UAE, sending home over $1 billion in remittances each year.

Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez and UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi signed the joint declaration to begin negotiations of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, the statement said. .

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This follows the conclusion of talks between the two parties on an investment promotion and protection agreement, he added.

“These initiatives are expected to boost trade and investment between the two countries, leading to more diversified economic activities, the development of new industries, job creation and increased consumer spending as we come together for a shared prosperity,” Lopez said.

“The Philippines could serve as the UAE’s strategic hub for the Southeast Asian region as economic activities continue to shift to Asia.”

Bilateral trade between the two countries increased last year by 35.7 percent to $951 million, according to the statement.

The UAE is seeking CEPA agreements with several countries, including India, Israel, Turkey, South Korea and Indonesia.

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Writing by Alexander Cornwell Editing by Tomasz Janowski

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