THE TRADE WAR between the United States and China will compel member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to fast-track negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in order to “insulate” the region from the impact of the tensions, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said on Friday.

“It’s precisely the reality right now. That’s the reality…because of this trade tension between the US and China, that compels ASEAN countries as well as the RCEP-participating countries to really fast-track the RCEP [consultations] so that, at least, in this part of the world, we will have this regional free trade agreement that can still improve the trading within the region and somehow be partially insulated from the impact of what’s going on between the US and China,” Mr. Lopez said in a televised news conference in Bangkok on Friday.

Mr. Lopez was in Bangkok to accompany President Rodrigo R. Duterte at the 34th ASEAN Summit from June 22-23.

The 10 member-states of the ASEAN have been trying to conclude negotiations on the RCEP since 2012. This formal agreement also involves free trade with Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

In a press briefing at the Palace on Monday, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Junever Mahilum-West said there could be discussions on the RCEP during the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok.

She noted that the RCEP has been “gaining importance because of the trade friction between China and the US.”

“We hope that the RCEP would be concluded by this year. We hesitate now to say that we conclude it by the summit, you know, a definite deadline, because when we don’t meet the deadline, then you know our credibility is a little bit questioned. So by this year, we hope that the RCEP [negotiations] would be concluded,” she said.

The areas of negotiations include trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, and dispute settlement, among others. — Arjay L. Balinbin