China-led Asia Pacific trade deal nears completion

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The Philippine Star | 7 November 2016

China-led Asia Pacific trade deal nears completion

MANILA, Philippines – A China-led trade deal in Asia-Pacific said to rival the US-chaired Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is nearing completion and is targeted to be completed next year.

“We are getting closer to expanding the opportunities for greater trade among these countries,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said. He was pertaining to negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade deal led by China and includes the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, New Zealand, India, South Korea and Japan.

According to Lopez, participating countries have already “narrowed the options” for the removal of tariff barriers during the recent RCEP meeting from Nov. 3 to 4. Once approved, RCEP will promote free flow of goods and services among countries accounting for 30 percent of the global economy and half the world’s population.

It has consistently been tagged as China’s answer to the US’s TPP, which includes 12 nations across the Pacific, some of which are also RCEP negotiators, and accounting for 40 percent of global gross domestic product. While in RCEP, the Philippines has yet to qualify for TPP negotiations largely because of existing foreign ownership restrictions in the Constitution.

“All participating countries have finally specified positions…in terms of the extent of products and services inclusion and numbers of years staging for the elimination of tariff rates among ASEAN and six countries participating in the RCEP,” Lopez said.

“A narrower band of options closer to reaching agreement hopefully in meeting next year here in the Philippines. If I remember right, before April and August,” he added.

The meeting, he said, will hopefully lead to reaching an agreement in time for the Philippines’ hosting of the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN. The Philippines, through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), has made recalibrations in its tariff liberalization commitments to the RCEP to ensure national interests, particularly the interests of sensitive sectors are protected.

RCEP negotiaitions started in November 2012 in Phnom Penh. The DTI earlier said the biggest challenge for the negotiators in the proposed agreement is how to strike a balance that would address the interests of domestic producers that need inputs for their export products and the requirements of consumers for products that are not adequately met by domestic production.

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