A MALAYSIAN trade official urged the Philippines to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, citing the benefits from improved market access.

Abu Bakar Yusof, Malaysia External Trade Development Corp. (MATRADE) deputy chief executive officer for exporter development, said at a news in Makati City on Tuesday that joining RCEP will also be an important gesture to the rest of the region.

“We would like the Philippines to be a part of RCEP… in the spirit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),” Mr. Abu Bakar said.

MATRADE is the national trade promotion agency of Malaysia.

“The decision of course, is up to new government, but I believe that the inclusion of Philippines in the RCEP will further enhance the trade and investments between Malaysia and the Philippines,” he added.

RCEP, touted as the world’s biggest trade agreement, started coming into force in the various signatory countries on Jan. 1. It involves Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of the ASEAN.

The Philippines has yet to finalize its entry to the trade agreement after the Senate was unable to give its concurrence in the previous Congress. Some senators had expressed concern over protections for the agriculture industry.

Mr. Abu Bakar said even without RCEP, Philippines-Malaysia trade will proceed under the terms of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).

“Every government or country may have their own considerations. But we have an existing arrangement that we have had so far which is the AFTA. This is been an effective platform for many, many years. Businesses have benefitted from the AFTA from the movement of goods and services,” Mr. Abu Bakar said.

AFTA was signed in January 1992.

On Aug. 22, Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual urged the Senate to ratify RCEP, citing the impact of remaining out of the deal on potential investment.

“It is very important, I’d like to emphasize, that RCEP be ratified or be confirmed by the Senate because we’ve always been asked by prospective investors, foreign chambers about how soon (we can ratify) RCEP because their own people… are asking them, before they consider investing in the Philippines,” Mr. Pascual said during a Senate Committee hearing.

MATRADE is currently conducting an Export Acceleration Mission (EAM) in the Philippines, which runs until Aug. 26. The Malaysian delegation includes 12 companies. The mission was organized by MATRADE, the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, and SME Bank.

“The objective of this EAM is to promote products and services to the Philippines by providing a platform for Malaysian companies to explore and identify new business opportunities through business matching, pitching sessions as well as market visits,” MATRADE said in a statement.

According to MATRADE, Malaysian trade with the Philippines in the first half of 2022 grew 30.1% to $4.5 billion. Exports from Malaysia hit $3.23 billion, while imports from the Philippines totaled $1.62 billion.

Malaysian brands operating in the Philippines include CIMB Bank, Air Asia, Petronas, and Maybank.

“The top five main exports (to the Philippines) were electrical & electronic products, palm oil & palm oil-based agricultural products, petroleum products, chemical & chemical products, and iron & steel. The Philippines is ranked as Malaysia’s 15th (largest trading partner) and Malaysia ranked as the Philippines’ 10th largest trading partner in 2021,” MATRADE said.

Separately, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said in a statement that it signed an agreement with Indonesian trade platform Andalin to improve business-to-business interactions between the two countries.

The DTI’s Export Management Bureau (EMB) and Andalin signed a memorandum of understanding on Aug. 19, which covers initiatives to promote the onboarding of Philippine exporters in Andalin’s e-commerce platform, known as Andalin Trade.

“Through Andalin Trade, we hope to encourage our exporters to look for new markets and partners and boost the confidence of would-be exporters in engaging in cross-border trade. We aim to conduct joint briefings with exporters to promote onboarding in Andalin Trade,” DTI-EMB Director Christopher Lawrence S. Arnuco said.

Andalin’s technology is supported in 200 global ports and 200 service partners across the world. Users can complete payments via Letters of Credit, Telegraphic Transfer, or escrow.

The company has active partnerships with Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“Andalin enables international trade buyers and sellers to connect easily and safely on our platform in a more safe, transparent, and efficient way. Buyers and sellers can join Andalin Trade for free; they only need to pass a strict selection and verification system to ensure all parties can maximize the platform as much as possible,” Andalin Chief Executive Officer Rifki Pratomo said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave