Duterte endorsement provides boost to RCEP

By Richmond Mercurio

MANILA, Philippines - President Duterte’s full support to the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a positive step toward the swift conclusion of the trade deal, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

During the closing ceremony of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Manila last Tuesday, Duterte endorsed the RCEP, saying “negotiations should conclude swiftly as decided by RCEP leaders in 2016.”

“It’s good that there is that slight pressure from the leader, the chair of ASEAN summit by November, that we have that intention to at least advance the discussion,” Lopez said.

“Where we are now, honestly, it may not be able to conclude (this year) but at least close to conclusion. Substantial conclusion as we call it. That’s why we’re exerting all effort,” he added.

Lopez said the biggest concern among the participating countries remains agreeing on a unified number of goods that will be given duty-free access.

He said while most of the 16 nations involved have already agreed on the inclusion of 90 percent of their products for liberalization, about one or two, however, have declined to commit to that same level.

“We’re asking for a more heart-to-heart talk among negotiating members in all the 16 countries. It’s really a matter of understanding,” Lopez said.

RCEP aims to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement between the 10 ASEAN members states and six free trade agreement partners that include China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India.

RCEP is poised to boost global growth by expanding the ASEAN consumer base of 620 million to 3.5 billion, integrating the major economic markets which will account for almost half of the world’s population and almost 30 percent of global gross domestic product.

“The RCEP will provide further impetus to our efforts. We want a region that is sustainable and inclusive in its growth, where no one is left behind and everyone has the opportunity for their potentials. It is a journey that continues as we seek to engage with our neighbors positively in dialogue partnerships that continue to grow,” Duterte said during his speech last Tuesday.

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