MOST OF the outstanding issues in a 15-country regional trade deal including Asia’s largest economies have been resolved with a signing expected in November, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said in a statement.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a trade pact between all 10 ASEAN countries and major trading partners Australia, China, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. India has backed out of the agreement.

Participating countries resolved “almost all remaining outstanding issues of the trade deal” after a virtual meeting held on Thursday, the DTI said.

The trade ministers remained open to the participation of India in the deal. India had opted out due to concerns about the deal’s potential repercussions on vulnerable sectors like farmers and small businesses.

Without India, RCEP accounts for 30% of the world’s population or 28.2% of global GDP. Talks on the partnership began in 2012.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said that the agreement is more comprehensive than other free trade agreements involving ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

“The conclusion of RCEP negotiations is a (sign) that notwithstanding the current pandemic, many great things can be accomplished, such as the affirmation of an international rules-based system for trade and investment in the region.”

In November, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said that the text-based negotiations and issues of market access have been concluded.

The Philippines’ lead negotiator and DTI Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty said that RCEP will enhance market access for trade and investment.

“This means that the Philippines can improve its export competitiveness in key products such as garments, automotive parts, and agricultural products like canned food and preserved fruits, while encouraging more investment in vital sectors such as research and development, financial services, game development, and IT-BPO,” he said. — Jenina P. Ibañez