Trade ministers in key Manila meeting on RCEP

Posted on May 09, 2017

TRADE OFFICIALS from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their six free-trade partners are meeting this week to arrive at crucial “commitments” to move closer to the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“RCEP should be able to demonstrate that we continue to underscore the developmental function of international trade that benefits ultimately the broader base of the economy,” said Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, who also serves as chairperson of the ASEAN Economic Ministers Meetings 2017.

RCEP, which if concluded will create an economic bloc that covers nearly half of the world population, enters the Manila round of discussions this week. The 18th RCEP trade negotiating committee meeting and related meetings is from May 8 to 12.

The partnership will link ASEAN -- the economic bloc comprised of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- and the six countries it has free trade agreements: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

DTI said the “ASEAN-centric and ASEAN-led RCEP is considered the new tailwind for global growth as it heads towards a more substantive phase following 17 rounds.”

The Manila round entails “redoubling of efforts in order to deliver the broader and deeper commitments being called for goods, services and investment liberalization” as the regional leaders along with their free trade partners are mandated to “substantially conclude RCEP this year,” the Trade department said.

RCEP aims to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement. Once concluded, this will further contribute in deepening ASEAN’s economic integration and heighten its role in global trade and investment.

DTI said RCEP is poised to boost global growth by expanding the ASEAN consumer base of 620 million to 3.5 billion, integrating major economic markets which will account for almost half of the world’s population and almost 30% of global gross domestic product.

The department said the Philippines, as this year’s host, joins the others in finding “creative solutions to outstanding issues,” as they try to reconcile differing views and achieve a balance among the interests of the developed, developing and least developed economies. They are also aiming to address these “in the most efficient and equitable manner.”

DTI said the bid to move RCEP forward would require “political willingness, especially at the moment where return to economic protectionism is being considered in some parts of the world.”

It said the Philippines would continue to push sectors wherein it has trade and export interests such as canned tuna, fresh pineapples, mangoes, garments of synthetic fibers, raw cane sugar, crude coconut oil, cut tobacco, bananas and coconut copra oil.

“The Philippines supports the streamlining of certification procedures for RCEP originating goods taking into consideration latest business practices,” the department said.

“RCEP also aims at streamlining customs procedures that go beyond some areas of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation. Parties are exploring setting a 48-hour release time for imported goods,” it said.

In trade and services, RCEP is expected to allow freer movement of Filipino skilled labor in professional services, including accountancy, engineering, architecture, computer-related services and other business services across the 16 RCEP participating countries. -- Victor V. Saulon