RCEP talks fail to reach sub­stan­tial con­clu­sion

First sum­mit in Manila

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page - CEFERINO S. RODOLFO

Lead­ers from the 16 mem­bers of the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) con­cluded yes­ter­day their first ever sum­mit in Manila with­out reach­ing sub­stan­tial agree­ment dragged by a few mem­bers who are still at log­ger­heads over the lev­els of trade lib­er­al­iza­tion.

“The sub­stan­tial con­clu­sion of Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP), how­ever, still re­mains as a goal,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment by ASEAN Eco­nomic Min­is­ters Chair­man Trade and In­dus­try Sec­re­tary Ra­mon M. Lopez.

Sub­stan­tial con­clu­sion of the RCEP ne­go­ti­a­tion has been one of the 11 de­liv­er­ables of the Philip­pines’ chair­man­ship of ASEAN this year. Of these 11, RCEP was the lone that failed to be suc­cess­fully acted upon by RCEP mem­bers.

Philippine Lead and Trade and In­dus­try Un­der­sec­re­tary Ceferino S. Rodolfo ex­plained to re­porters that the fail­ure to sub­stan­tially con­clude the RCEP ne­go­ti­a­tion was largely due to the prob­lem of two non-ASEAN coun- tries, which can­not agree on the lev­els of trade lib­er­al­iza­tion with huge dis­par­ity on their of­fers and counter of­fer. Aside from the 10 ASEAN coun­tries, the six other RCEP mem­ber coun­tries are China, Ja­pan, In­dia, South Korea, Aus­tralia, and New Zealand.

“Ac­tu­ally, FTA part­ner coun­tries have no prob­lem with ASEAN and we can see that the de­vel­oped coun­tries are will­ing to open their mar­kets to sec­tors of in­ter­est to ASEAN. The prob­lem is among them,” he said with­out di­vulging the two coun­tries, who have held up the RCEP ne­go­ti­a­tions.

He said that even China and Ja­pan have gen­er­ously agreed on the lev­els of lib­er­al­iza­tion not­ing the im­por­tance the RCEP mem­bers have put into this goal to sub­stan­tially con­clude the RCEP ne­go­ti­a­tions dur­ing this sum­mit on hopes to counter the ris­ing trade pro­tec­tion­ist sen­ti­ment.

For in­stance, it is the first time that RCEP held their maiden Lead­ers Sum­mit here. This year alone, RCEP held 3 min­is­te­rial meet­ings and 20 se­nior of­fi­cials meet­ings al­ready.

“ASEAN wants in­clu­sive glob­al­iza­tion rather than stop­ping, we want them to open,” said Rodolfo.

All ASEAN wants is the open­ing of mar­ket ac­cess for sec­tors rel­e­vant to mi­cro small and medium en­ter­prises and agri­cul­ture. Nonethe­less, the min­is­ters have en­dorsed to the RCEP lead­ers stronger push for con­clu­sion of the RCEP by next year.

To re­solve this im­passe, an of­fi­cial privy to the RCEP dis­cus­sion said mem­bers may pro­vide for flex­i­bil­ity on com­mon con­ces­sions among those with no bi­lat­eral agree­ments to al­low cer­tain per­cent­age for de­vi­a­tion or of­fers that a mem­ber can give to a spe­cific part­ner only to push for the con­clu­sion of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. (BCM)

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