Asean, 6 trading partners eyeing more tariff cuts under new Asia-Pacific FTA

InterAksyon | August 23, 2013

Asean, 6 trading partners eyeing more tariff cuts under new Asia-Pacific FTA

By: Ben Arnold O. De Vera, InterAksyon.com

MANILA — Asean and its six free trade agreement (FTA) partners are eyeing more tariff cuts under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with duties on vehicles possibly to be a "hot topic" in the negotiations, Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo said yesterday.

Domingo last Monday attended the First RCEP Ministerial Meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, where the trade ministers of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam as well as of its FTA partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea discussed pushing the RCEP forward.

"The ambition is for all 16 countries to follow a single schedule of tariff cuts with very limited exemptions," Domingo told reporters on the sidelines of the "Sikat Pinoy" National Food Fair.

While about 99 percent of the tariffs slapped in goods within Asean have been slashed to zero, Domingo said duties on many products traded with the six FTA partners could be further lowered.

"Whatever [tariff cuts] we have now, RCEP will be more than that," Domingo said, adding that RCEP, which includes China, would not compete with the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

The Philippines would even want to pursue as many FTAs as possible to enhance trade with its major partners, Domingo said.

"RCEP will improve our trade with Asians; TPP, with the Americas. Plus we want an FTA with the European Union," he said.

Asean and its six FTA partners are putting up rules on dispute settlement, among other issues, under the RCEP, but it is "too premature" for the 16 countries to set a deadline for completion of negotiations, Domingo said.

He expects tariff cuts on automotive to become a "hot topic" in RCEP negotiations, as China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand are major vehicle manufacturers and exporters.

As for the TPP, the Philippines would be ready to join after the existing 12 negotiating countries conclude their talks, Domingo said.

He told the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) on the sidelines of the Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) meeting held Wednesday also in Bandar Seri Begawan that the Philippines remains "interested" in the TPP.

Besides the US, other countries involved in TPP talks are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The 19th round of TPP negotiations started Thursday also in Brunei’s capital, with the aim of completing an agreement within the year.

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source: InterAksyon