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Senate to resume RCEP deliberations

Manila Bulletin - 06 February 2023

Senate to resume RCEP deliberations

Farmer groups maintain their opposition against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP) as Senate resumes its deliberations Tuesday, Feb. 7, on the country’s participation in the mega trade deal.

Top officials of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will attend the first hearing of RCEP, which was assigned a special sub-committee under Sen. Loren Legarda, who is chairman of foreign relations at the Senate. Concurrence to Malacanang’s ratification of RCEP was left hanging by the previous Senate on strong opposition from the agriculture sector. DTI Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo and DTI Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty are expected to attend the first hearing of RCEP.

In pushing for the RCEP ratification, DTI Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual explained the need of the Philippines for a deeper economic integration under a rules-based trading system and to establish an enabling environment for investments.

“True, our country has already implemented game-changing economic reforms. RCEP will complement these reforms and strengthen the country’s enabling environment for business. This regional pact will open a wide range of market opportunities for investors, particularly in export-oriented enterprises, in this era where the center of economic activities is in the region. The Philippines cannot afford not to be part of this mega free trade agreement,” Pascual explained.

Further, he stressed that RCEP, like any other trade agreement, should be viewed not only in the context of market access but also in the aspect of stability of trade and investment rules.

“The Philippines has only a few FTAs compared with other competing ASEAN countries. Suppose our country is seen to be reluctant to join this regional trade agreement spearheaded by ASEAN itself, such reluctance would pose many questions about the country’s trade policy direction,” the Trade Chief said.

RCEP is also seen to complement the country’s national policies and programs, including those in agriculture, micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), services, e-commerce, intellectual property, competition, and sustainable development.

“Our approach to trade and investment policies is holistic, and we cannot afford to just focus on certain sectors. Our goal is a vibrant, sustainable, and resilient economy not only for businesses and investors but for the general welfare,” Pascual further explained.

Likewise, he said that, “The Philippines is the remaining Signatory State that has yet to participate in this important trade deal, and this time the Philippines cannot afford not to join. It will be costly, we will miss a lot of opportunities. Our neighbors in South East Asia are already enjoying the advantages and benefits of the Agreement, and further delay can result in trade diversification and missed investment opportunities.”

For his part, Philippine RCEP Chief Trade Negotiator, Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty, assured that the concerns raised by groups of farmers are well addressed in the Agreement.

“In the course of negotiation, we made sure that concerns of stakeholders are well covered and appropriate flexibilities or policy space are provided in the agreement,” said Gepty.

However, farmer groups led by the Federation of Free Farmers said that the Philippines can still avail of trade concessions even if it does not join RCEP.

According to the FFF, most of the tariff concessions under RCEP are contained in existing free trade agreements (FTAs) of the Philippines. These concessions are not also exclusive to the Philippines but to all and the additional concessions have minimal trade impact.

In addition, FFF said the benefits of expanded RCEP rules of origin have not been qualified and RCEP will not improve the country’s access to raw materials from other RCEP countries.

It is not also true that investors will shift to other countries if the Philippines will not join RCEP as investors will enjoy equivalent access to RCEP markets under existing FTAs. “RCEP membership is not crucial factor in investment decision making. Our own farmers are more reliable and important investors,” the statement added.

Aside from putting the country’s agricultural goods at a disadvantaged, FFF said that industrial goods are also at risk since tariffs on 93 percent of industrial tariff lines will be set to zero under RCEP. “Only a few favored sectors will enjoy tariff protection under RCEP,” it added.

One issue the farmers have raised against RCEP is that “Government has habitually reneged on its promises to support the agriculture sector.”

 source: Manila Bulletin