The Philippines has called on trade ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the six states with which the bloc has existing free trade deals to be more realistic to complete the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year. The RCEP is an expanded free trade agreement between ASEAN member-states and their free trade partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez represented the Philippines at the 5th RCEP Intercessional Meeting in Tokyo over the weekend, where he joined Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock-Hoi, and trade ministers from the 16 RCEP participating countries (RPC).
“It is about time that we shift gears and lean towards being more realistic than idealistic. While we attend to our own interests, we should also remember that a mutually-beneficial agreement requires trade-offs,” said Lopez.
“We should also keep in mind that this mega-regional trade pact should be inclusive and progressive and should cater not only to today’s generation but also of the future,” he added.
The free trade agreement that began negotiations in 2013 covers trade in goods, trade in services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement and other issues. On the trade in goods, some countries’ submissions were still below the targeted 92 percent for tariff elimination. RPCs committed to submit improved offers by the middle of July.
Meanwhile, Lopez commended the progress on e-commerce for closing several articles in the RCEP key elements paper. He said that e-commerce significantly lowers the barriers to entry and operating costs for businesses, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), which comprise 99.6 percent of all registered businesses in the Philippines.
The RPC will meet again in Singapore this August to assess the outcome of the 23rd round of negotiations in Bangkok, Thailand.