By Riza Lozada
President Duterte stressed the need to immediately complete the setting up of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to sustain the region’s new found role as the primary global growth engine.
Asean economic ministers, in turn, committed to complete RCEP negotiations by the end of the year.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 Association of Southeast Asian (Asean) member states and its six trading partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
RCEP is viewed as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement which includes several Asian and American nations but excludes China and India.
In his remarks during the recent RCEP Summit, Mr. Duterte said RCEP is not simply an added trade agreement but a trade deal that could provide the size and scale to unleash new growth potentials and write the new rules of the game of the international trade order.
“By changing global economic landscape requires us to urgently bring to the negotiations to a close and to create deeper trade linkages that would demonstrate our commitment to free and open markets,” he said.
He said the pact, which brings together 16 countries, would be one of the biggest trade deals when it enters into force as it covers almost half of the world’s population and more than a third of the global gross domestic product (GDP).
Mr. Duterte cited the five ministerial meetings and 20 rounds of negotiation conducted five years after RCEP was launched.
“The milestones reached in RCEP negotiations throughout the years have greatly progressed and provided substantial outcomes, particularly on areas that highlight the importance we give to the inclusive growth anchored on development and capacity building,” he said.
“The progress in the negotiations presents to us a clear picture of where we are and the work required for us to reach our goal of the high quality, credible, and mutually beneficial free trade agreement,” he added.
Mr. Duterte said the Asean is reaffirming its commitment to the free trade agreement (FTA) concept that balances the needs of all countries but maintains the high level of ambition.
ASEAN has free trade agreements with six partners namely People’s Republic of China, Republic of Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez said ministers are set to finalize a collective assessment paper that will tackle a list of measures that are to be completed for this year, those that need further discussion and those that require reconsideration of current mandates.
Lopez said the ministers will provide a comprehensive overview of what has been achieved in past negotiations giving directions to stakeholders on the steps needed for the fulfillment of the free trade agreement.
“We should be able to provide a concrete and tangible roadmap that our leaders can agree and endorse which will lay the foundation for a trade agreement. RCEP is of tremendous importance for our economies in the region. Our efforts today can bring further progress and economic sustainability for the coming years,” said Lopez, chair of the Asean Economic Ministers Meeting.