Malaya Business Insight | 10 February 2017
Philippines to push for RCEP deal while ASEAN chair
The Philippines while chair of Asean this year, will push for the conclusion of an agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to pave the way for a mega regional free trade agreement (FTA) next year.
Ramon Lopez, secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), said a basic agreement is possible by November, a possible milestone for the country’s year of chairmanship.
RCEP will form an FTA between Asean and its six dialogue partners China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Lopez said the major issue dragging the conclusion is on the number of products that two of these six big economies would not agree on which will be offered for liberalization once RCEP comes into force.
While still optimistic of a substantial breakthrough in this issue before the Asean Summit is held in November in the Philippines, Lopez is already thinking of an option whereby the RCEP countries “could meet halfway” on the numbers and phase down the liberalization gradually.
“Some countries are pushing for 92 percent while the big economies are willing to give only 83 percent,” said Lopez.
He sees the opportunity to conclude the RCEP “to have a milestone during our chair.”
“Through our chairship, we also wish to reach the conclusion for the RCEP that will link the ASEAN – an economic powerhouse with a market of 600 million people – to its six dialogue partners. This would create an even bigger market of 1.3 billion people,” he added.
He said RCEP has always been the Philippines’ priority with or without its inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Lopez sees two opportunities to iron out the details, in the Asean economic ministers level in April and October, on top of the senior economic ministers meeting.
As Asean chair, however, the Philippines hopes to resolve within its chairmanship differences in the liberalization of services as well as the imposition of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that serve to curtail trade.
Ceferino Rodolfo, DTI undersecretary, said the Philippines would push its strength as a provider of skilled workers in the area of services which would liberalize the movement of natural persons.
“The Philippines is an offensive here because we are strong in services,” Rodolfo said, adding the country would push for the expansion of the list of professions that can be exchanged within Asean as well as the mutual recognition of these professions.
On NTBs in Asean, Lopez said he would propose the setting of parameters on when these can be used.
Rodolfo said NTB measures like safety and sanitary standards should be instituted to protect consumers and not the industries.