INVESTMENT PROMOTION agencies (IPAs) including the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) said the Senate needs to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, citing the need to participate in the bloc in order to better integrate the Philippine economy with those of major trading partners.

PEZA, the Authority of Freeport Area of Bataan, the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority, the Clark Development Corp., the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, the John Hay Management Corp., the Poro Point Management Corp., the Regional Board of Investments-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, the Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council, and the Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone Authority issued a statement on Tuesday batting for ratification of the RCEP treaty.  

“The RCEP Agreement promotes greater openness, creates a more business-friendly environment, encourages closer integration of economies, and provides a more stable and predictable rules-based system of trade,” they said.

On Sept. 2, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the RCEP agreement, which is now awaiting the Senate’s concurrence.

The trade agreement took effect on Jan. 1 this year and is now in force with members Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, China, Japan, and New Zealand. On Feb. 1, South Korea is also set to implement the trade deal.  

The Senate has until Feb. 4 to ratify RCEP before the chamber takes a break for the election campaign.

According to the investment promotion agencies, the Philippines cannot afford to delay its participation, or to stay away from the trade deal, because other countries in the region which are members will be deemed more attractive investment destinations.  

 “In this respect, the Philippines’ immediate participation in RCEP is important as it will allow firms in the country, particularly those geared towards exports, to benefit from the lowering of trade barriers, and improved market access for goods and services in fourteen export destinations,” they said.

They said RCEP will benefit Philippine companies by lowering import tariffs, making imported raw materials cheaper. The treaty is also expected to improve the business environment by making trading rules more transparent and friction-free.

“The RCEP region remains a strong bastion of economic activity and opportunity as trade and investment shift to Asia. Thus, given the extent of economic activity in the region, the Philippines cannot afford to delay or not participate in this free trade deal when all our neighbors in Southeast Asia are reaping the advantages of the agreement,” they said.

Separately, the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines (TCAP) and the Canned Sardines Association of the Philippines (CSAP) also batted for Senate concurrence, saying that the trade deal will benefit their industries.  

TCAP and CSAP Executive Director Francisco Buencamino said in a statement that participation in the RCEP will give the industries equal footing with Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

“The canned tuna industry stands to gain from RCEP via the expected increase in domestic demand resulting from the improved economic performance of key sectors such as manufacturing, the service sector and even agriculture due to access to markets as well as investment,” Mr. Buencamino said.  

“A growing export base for the sardine industry will help keep prices for the domestic market more manageable and allow the category to continue to grow. The industry and its suppliers provide direct employment to at least 80,000 to 100,000 workers and impact around 500,000 individuals directly,” he added.

In a statement, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc. (JCCIPI) also called for RCEP’s ratification.

“The ratification of the RCEP would provide an immense boost to the country’s economic activity and further strengthen the intra-region free trade system, especially as a recovery mechanism from the impact brought by the pandemic which has made international cooperation on trade more important than ever,” JCCIPI said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave