TRADE SECRETARY Ramon M. Lopez has proposed opening up regional trade for essential goods needed by countries to deal with the pandemic.

He said at a Belt and Road Summit Wednesday that the Philippines did not restrict exports of personal protective equipment such as medical-grade masks throughout the public health crisis.

“We have to honor all the contracts of our exporters and allow them to fulfill their deliveries,” he said.

The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) committed to refrain from using trade restrictions, including non-tariff measures, on essential goods to prevent supply disruptions during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. 

“It may be useful for those part of the Belt and Road Initiative to consider a similar arrangement with ASEAN to show our stakeholders our collective effort to ensure that supply chains remain open regardless of the pandemic, and that essential goods remain available to our peoples.”

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is Beijing’s global infrastructure development strategy connecting Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Mr. Lopez said regional free trade agreements could help build back supply chains after the pandemic.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a trade pact that includes China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and all 10 ASEAN member countries, was signed last year.

“For strengthened multilateral cooperation, we may need to do more to ensure that trade remains unimpeded,” Mr. Lopez said.

“For the Philippines, it is important therefore to support initiatives that keep markets open and ensure the unhampered flow of essential goods and services by reducing unnecessary trade measures.”

Mr. Lopez has been pushing for the inclusion of rice into the list of essential goods unimpeded by trade restrictions under the ASEAN agreement. — Jenina P. Ibañez