THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its five trade partners — Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand — signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement in November. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

THE Trade department aims to ratify the recently signed 15-country mega-trade deal by next year.

Signed last month after eight years of negotiations, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a trade pact that includes China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and all 10 member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Trade Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty in an online briefing last week said that the department plans to finish both the ratification process and secure Senate concurrence in 2021.

“We’ll have the elections in 2022, so by next year we want to finish all this. That’s the target,” he said in English and Filipino.

Considered a treaty or international agreement, the free trade deal must have the concurrence of at least two-thirds of the members of the Senate, according to Article VII.21 of the Constitution.

The Philippines in 2022 will elect successors to the President and Vice-President and 12 seats to the Senate, along with seats to the House of Representatives and officials at the provincial, city, and municipal levels.

RCEP becomes effective 60 days after six ASEAN member states and three other signatory states submit their instruments of ratification approval.

The Trade department has been promoting the deal as an export market access advantage. Products like garments, automotive parts, and agricultural products such as canned food and preserved fruit stand to benefit, Mr. Gepty said in a statement.

Mr. Gepty during the briefing said the department is aligning their programs to improve industry competitiveness with the trade deal.

“Whoever is quick to take advantage of what RCEP offers would reap the benefits,” he said.

But others have criticized the deal. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Senior Economist Rashmi Banga said that a potential surge in imports could far outweigh the potential export value.

As economies reel from the health crisis, Ms. Banga said the government should prioritize saving domestic financial resources, using tariffs to increase revenue, and regulating the imports of luxury items.

Since the RCEP signing, the Trade department is once again looking into possible participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The agreement was signed in 2018 by 11 countries — Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.