RCEP negotiations priority deliverable for Philippine ASEAN chairmanship: DTI chief
The Philippines urged on Thursday Southeast Asian countries and their dialogue partners to "exert utmost efforts" to resolve issues in order to come up with a substantial conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations in time for the regional summit in November.
In the opening of the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meeting and Related Meetings in Pasay City, Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the conclusion of the RCEP talks remains high on ASEAN's overall economic agenda.
He said it is a "priority deliverable" for the Philippine chairmanship of ASEAN 2017 and in time for the 50th anniversary of the regional bloc.
"This partnership has tremendous opportunity to re-energize global free trade and open markets. As such, all eyes are on RCEP and how it will delicately balance meaningful outcomes that benefit all parties while addressing the sensitivities and circumstances of our economies, especially on market access and rules-based scheme," he said.
"I, therefore, enjoin all parties to exert utmost efforts to constructively resolve outstanding issues and seek options that provide flexibilities to move the negotiations forward," Lopez stressed.
Earlier, the Department of Trade and Industry chief said that RCEP participating countries were willing to include 90 to 92 percent of their goods under liberalization, except for one country which can offer only 80 percent of its commodities duty-free.
Aside from the Philippines, the nine other ASEAN countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, - and their dialogue partners - Australia, China, India, Japan New Zealand and South Korea - have been pushing for the RCEP.
"Given that we are only three months away from the ASEAN Leaders' Summit in November, we are presented with a chance to continue the momentum during the fifth RCEP Ministerial Meeting," Lopez said.
The 5th RCEP Meeting will be held on Sunday in Manila.
Lopez said RCEP participants need to take a collective stance and arrive at a clear consensus on the vital elements for this agreement.
"Let us not miss the opportunity of announcing a substantial conclusion of RCEP negotiations especially in November, or a significant breakthrough to culminate our celebration of ASEAN's golden jubilee year," he said.
"For this auspicious event, I call on my fellow ministers from the ASEAN member states, as well as our dialogue partners, to continue the progress in operationalizing our regional integration initiatives and widening cooperation mechanisms," the DTI chief said.
RCEP negotiation, which was launched in November 2012, includes trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, small and medium enterprises and other issues.
The 16 RCEP participating countries account for almost half of the world's population; contribute about 30 percent of global gross domestic product and over a quarter of world export. RCEP will provide a framework aimed at lowering trade barriers and securing improved market access for goods and services for businesses in the region. Celerina Monte/DMS