ASEAN claims ‘sig­nif­i­cant progress’ on RCEP

Business World - - THE ECONOMY - Anna Gabriela A. Mogato

THE As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) has achieved many of the items on its eco­nomic agenda and made ma­jor progress in bring­ing for­ward the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP), though the ne­go­ti­a­tions have a way to go, the Philip­pines’ Trade depart­ment said.

Speak­ing for ASEAN Eco­nomic Min­is­ters Chair­man Ra­mon M. Lopez, the Sec­re­tary of Trade and In­dus­try, Un­der­sec­re­tary Ce­ferino S. Rodolfo said on Tues­day in Pasay City that much had been achieved on the RCEP front.

“Sig­nif­i­cant progress in the on- go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions has been achieved with the fi­nal­iza­tion of the scope of the RCEP Key El­e­ments for Sig­nif­i­cant Out­comes by end of 2017 and the Col­lec­tive As­sess­ment Re­port,” he said.

The RCEP has been ne­go­ti­ated since 2012. It seeks to bring to­gether ASEAN mem­ber states and China, Ja­pan, South Korea, the US, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

The Col­lec­tive As­sess­ment Re­port is ex­pected to be re­leased dur­ing the three­day sum­mit once the first RCEP Sum­mit is con­cluded.

“This un­prece­dented level of en­gage­ment is telling of the im­por­tance and grav­ity of the re­gional group­ing on terms of the per­ceived ben­e­fits that come with it and its ca­pac­ity to drive eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity for years to come,” he said.

“This meet­ing sends a strong sig­nal to the world of the im­por­tance of the con­tin­ued [...] co­op­er­a­tion among coun­tries if we are to re­al­ize ar­eas of com­mon in­ter­est, con­trary to the grow­ing promi­nence of pro­tec­tion­ism and anti- glob­al­iza­tion sen­ti­ments world­wide.”

Most of the agenda items, in­clud­ing the re­gion-wide self- cer­ti­fi­ca­tion scheme and the ASEAN Trade in Ser­vices Agree­ment, which were con­cluded this year are both ex­pected to be fully de­liv­ered by next year.

The first item de­liv­ered was the op­er­a­tional­iza­tion of the ASEAN Roll- On and Roll- Off pro­gram which con­nects Davao and Gen­eral San­tos City to Bi­tung in In­done­sia.

In Septem­ber, the ASEAN Seam­less Trade Fa­cil­i­ta­tion In­di­ca­tors (ASTFI) were adopted. Mr. Rodolfo said that the ASTFI, while not legally bind­ing, should as­sist in draft­ing trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion poli­cies, reg­u­la­tions and pro­ce­dures of ASEAN mem­ber states.

“This is ex­pected to fa­cil­i­tate the goal of in­creas­ing in­tra- re­gional trade be­tween the pe­riod 2017 and 2025, to be com­ple­mented by the agree­ment among mem­ber states to re­duce trans­ac­tion cost by 10% by 2020,” he added.

Other pri­or­i­ties also achieved were the de­vel­op­ment of the ASEAN In­clu­sive Business Frame­work ( AIBF) and ASEAN Work Pro­gramme on Elec­tronic Com­merce 20172025.

The AIBF pro­vides a plat­form for mi­cro, small and medium en­ter­prises ( MSMEs) to be­come part of the sup­ply chains of large and multi­na­tional en­ter­prises. The Work Pro­gramme on Elec­tronic Com­merce serves as the frame­work for up­lift­ing MSMEs and low­er­ing trade bar­ri­ers through e- com­merce.

Dur­ing the three- day sum­mit, Mr. Rodolfo said that two agenda items are ex­pected to be de­liv­ered: the Ac­tion Agenda on Main­stream­ing Women’s Eco­nomic Em­pow­er­ment in ASEAN, a plat­form for sup­port­ing women in MSMEs; and the ASEAN Dec­la­ra­tion on In­no­va­tion, which is ex­pected to bol­ster re­gional com­pet­i­tive­ness through tech­no­log­i­cal and in­no­va­tion- based en­trepreneur­ship among the mem­ber states.

“While com­pe­ti­tion has yielded ef­fi­ciency gains in trade, we need com­ple­men­ta­tion, co­op­er­a­tion, and col­lab­o­ra­tion to de­velop an in­clu­sive glob­al­iza­tion model where ev­ery­one emerges as win­ners,” he said.

Mr. Rodolfo also said that the bloc is seek­ing to ex­pand its Free Trade Agree­ment ( FTA) with Europe, apart from ex­pand­ing the ex­ist­ing bi­lat­eral FTAs with the six part­ner coun­tries cur­rently also in­volved in the RCEP.

In the ASEAN- South Korea FTA, ne­go­ti­a­tions to lower bar­ri­ers to Philip­pine exports of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts have been held, while the re­gion has also been look­ing to gen­er­ate more business op­por­tu­ni­ties es­pe­cially for the MSMEs with the ASEANIn­dia FTA.

“For Canada, in par­tic­u­lar, ASEAN has em­barked on a joint fea­si­bil­ity study which is still a work in progress, and have agreed on the con­duct of ex­ploratory dis­cus­sions to fur­ther as­sess the mer­its for such a pro­posal of a pos­si­ble FTA,” Mr. Rodolfo said.

Mr. Rodolfo said the ASEAN- European Union dis­cus­sions to ne­go­ti­ate an FTA have re­sumed, with ASEAN pro­ceed­ing with in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing and con­fi­dence build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

“At the Philip­pine level, the trade part­ners rep­re­sented in these meet­ings and sum­mits ac­count for 91% of our to­tal global exports. At the ASEAN level, this will prob­a­bly be one of the largest con­ver­gence of the re­gion’s trade part­ners,” Mr. Rodolfo said. —

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