THE outsourcing industry is poised to benefit from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal, with opportunities still likely available even with a delayed start, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.

“RCEP includes two chapters that are very relevant for digitalization,” ADB Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department Director for Regional Cooperation and Integration Cyn-Young Park said in a briefing on Wednesday.

The trade deal involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand includes chapters on e-commerce and intellectual property rights.

Ms. Park said that this establishes a set of unified rules on trade in services through e-commerce, and supports investment by protecting intellectual property.

“Especially in the Philippines, this will help greatly the BPO (business process outsourcing) sector,” she said. “BPO sector has been the core business for creating jobs and incomes for many, many people in the Philippines.”

An outsourcing industry group, the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines, has said that the trade deal would boost investment in the sector due to the stable regulatory environment and adherence to common international standards.

The world’s largest trade deal started to come into force on Jan. 1, having been approved by Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

RCEP was signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Sept. 2, 2021, but the Senate last week adjourned for the election break without giving its concurrence to the trade deal.

Groups such as the Federation of Free Farmers have said that safeguards for the agriculture sector need to be in place before the Philippines enforces the deal.

ADB Chief Economist Albert Park said the delayed implementation is “unfortunate.”

“At the same time, the agreement just went into force on January 1st, and so I think its impacts are going to be quite gradual. They will unfold over time,” he said.

“I don’t think companies in the Philippines or workers should feel discouraged,” he added, as long as the country eventually implements the deal. “I’m sure as the years unfold those opportunities will also be made available.”

The ADB in its Asian Economic Integration Report 2022 launched on Wednesday said digital services trade in the Asia Pacific has grown faster in the last 15 years compared to other parts of the world.

Wealthier economies are more competitive in digital services, in which human capital, digital connectivity, communications technology investment, and the regulatory environment are key, the ADB said.

“The availability of human capital in scale, costs, or specific expertise has been identified as important for digital services competitiveness in many economies in Asia and the Pacific,” the bank said.

“Digital services exports in India and the Philippines have been largely driven by their large, young, English-speaking population, and competitive wages.” — Jenina P. Ibañez