THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has achieved many of the items on its economic agenda and made major progress in bringing forward the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), though the negotiations have a way to go, the Philippines’ Trade department said.
Speaking for ASEAN Economic Ministers Chairman Ramon M. Lopez, the Secretary of Trade and Industry, Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said on Tuesday in Pasay City that much had been achieved on the RCEP front.
“Significant progress in the on-going negotiations has been achieved with the finalization of the scope of the RCEP Key Elements for Significant Outcomes by end of 2017 and the Collective Assessment Report,” he said.
When asked why the RCEP still remains far from reach, Mr. Rodolfo reiterated Mr. Lopez’s former response months ago that there were issues among ASEAN’s partners in the trade agreement.
Mr. Rodolfo also said that they have already asked the concerned parties—which he refused to name – to sort it out already.
“Actually, there’s no problem with our partners giving to ASEAN with the RCEP. The developed countries are willing to open their market to sectors of interest to ASEAN,” he added.
The RCEP has been negotiated since 2012. It seeks to bring together ASEAN member states and China, Japan, South Korea, the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The Collective Assessment Report is expected to be released during the three-day summit once the first RCEP Summit is concluded.
“This unprecedented level of engagement is telling of the importance and gravity of the regional grouping on terms of the perceived benefits that come with it and its capacity to drive economic sustainability for years to come,” he said.
“This meeting sends a strong signal to the world of the importance of the continued […] cooperation among countries if we are to realize areas of common interest, contrary to the growing prominence of protectionism and anti-globalization sentiments worldwide.”
Most of the agenda items, including the region-wide self-certification scheme and the ASEAN Trade in Services Agreement, which were concluded this year are both expected to be fully delivered by next year.
The first item delivered was the operationalization of the ASEAN Roll-On and Roll-Off program which connects Davao and General Santos City to Bitung in Indonesia.
In September, the ASEAN Seamless Trade Facilitation Indicators (ASTFI) were adopted. Mr. Rodolfo said that the ASTFI, while not legally binding, should assist in drafting trade facilitation policies, regulations and procedures of ASEAN member states.
“This is expected to facilitate the goal of increasing intra-regional trade between the period 2017 and 2025, to be complemented by the agreement among member states to reduce transaction cost by 10% by 2020,” he added.
Other priorities also achieved were the development of the ASEAN Inclusive Business Framework (AIBF) and ASEAN Work Programme on Electronic Commerce 2017-2025.
The AIBF provides a platform for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to become part of the supply chains of large and multinational enterprises. The Work Programme on Electronic Commerce serves as the framework for uplifting MSMEs and lowering trade barriers through e-commerce.
During the three-day summit, Mr. Rodolfo said that two agenda items are expected to be delivered: the Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment in ASEAN, a platform for supporting women in MSMEs; and the ASEAN Declaration on Innovation, which is expected to bolster regional competitiveness through technological and innovation-based entrepreneurship among the member states.
“While competition has yielded efficiency gains in trade, we need complementation, cooperation, and collaboration to develop an inclusive globalization model where everyone emerges as winners,” he said.
Mr. Rodolfo also said that the bloc is seeking to expand its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Europe, apart from expanding the existing bilateral FTAs with the six partner countries currently also involved in the RCEP.
In the ASEAN-South Korea FTA, negotiations to lower barriers to Philippine exports of agricultural products have been held, while the region has also been looking to generate more business opportunities especially for the MSMEs with the ASEAN-India FTA.
“For Canada, in particular, ASEAN has embarked on a joint feasibility study which is still a work in progress, and have agreed on the conduct of exploratory discussions to further assess the merits for such a proposal of a possible FTA,” Mr. Rodolfo said.
Mr. Rodolfo said the ASEAN-European Union discussions to negotiate an FTA have resumed, with ASEAN proceeding with information-sharing and confidence building activities.
“At the Philippine level, the trade partners represented in these meetings and summits account for 91% of our total global exports. At the ASEAN level, this will probably be one of the largest convergence of the region’s trade partners,” Mr. Rodolfo said. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato