THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) asked the Senate to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement before the end of the first quarter, saying that the Philippines is already missing out on the deal’s benefits.

Trade Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of an event organized by the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (BCCP) late Tuesday that the Senate has “the whole of February to conduct hearings. And then there’s March. Basically, two months. I hope it (RCEP) gets finished because we are already delayed.”

“On the assumption that the hearings go smoothly and given the fact that this is one of the priorities of the government, we hope that in the first quarter of this year we can finish the whole process,” he added.

Mr. Gepty said that the Philippines is missing out on the benefits of the RCEP, whose other members have been operating within the trade framework since the start of 2022.

“(We are missing) on the trade facilitation aspect because in RCEP, we have agreed on certain simplified rules and procedure in conducting trade. So this means less paperwork, more convenience. If there is more convenience, it reduces the administrative costs of businesses. That’s additional savings,” Mr. Gepty said.

“The other RCEP parties are now enjoying the benefits of the agreement. In fact, they have already noted an increase in trade, like for example Thailand, Cambodia, even China. There is already an increase in trade. We hope that we can already be part of this very important agreement,” he added.

The RCEP is currently with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which is chaired by Senator Maria Imelda Josefa R. Marcos.

Ms. Marcos has formed a technical working group to generate the committee report on RCEP ratification. The committee is expected to report it out to plenary once Senate sessions resume.

The RCEP, touted as the world’s largest free trade agreement (FTA), started coming into force in the various jurisdictions on Jan. 1, 2022. The participating countries include the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand. 

The Philippines has yet to seal its participation after the Senate was unable to give its concurrence by the end of 2022 after Senators raised the issue of inadequate safeguards for the agriculture industry. Former President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the RCEP agreement in September 2021.  

BCCP Executive Director Chris Nelson said separately that the RCEP will help attract more investors, calling Mr. Gepty’s first-quarter timeline for approval realistic.

“I fully support RCEP. It’s one of the things we need to be doing. One of the things we keep saying to people in the UK is to do business in the Philippines. If you want to reinforce that, you should sign the RCEP, which is the largest trading bloc in the world,” Mr. Nelson said.

“I think it (first quarter timeline) is realistic. We just need to push hard and get over the line. It is an important thing to be done,” he added. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave