RCEP participating countries need to "recalibrate" positions in order for negotiations to move forward, Philippine trade official says
While the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have agreed on key principles on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations, they failed to get the support from some of the six dialogue partners as they have to consult yet their leaders, Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Monday.
In a press conference at the end of the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meeting and Related Meetings in Pasay City, Lopez admitted there should be "recalibration" of positions in order for the RCEP negotiations to move forward.
For instance, in liberalizing the tariff lines, ASEAN countries have agreed on 90 to 92 percent, he said.
Under the recalibration, Lopez said other free trade agreement partners should also agree to this level.
Some of the FTA partners have been pushing for lower or higher percentage on tariff liberalization, he said.
"What we're looking at is the support and concurrence of others," he said.
Aside from the 10 ASEAN countries, namely, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, the six FTA partners participating in the RCEP negotiations are Australia, China, India, Japan New Zealand and South Korea.
During the just concluded 5th RCEP Ministerial Meeting, Lopez said in order to move the negotiations forward, the ministers agreed on "key elements" that will put more direction and itemize substantial ways that will guide parties to reach a substantial conclusion by the end of the year.
He did not give details on other key elements as they are still subject to negotiations. The key elements deal on market access and rules.
Lopez said there will still be submission of offers by third week of September among the ASEAN and dialogue partners.
After that, there will be another negotiating committee meeting in South Korea in October.
"All of these will take place before the November summit," he said.
With the solid position of the ASEAN, Lopez expressed hope that the other FTA partners would be pressured to support the position of the majority.
"The key principles included therein are ASEAN-endorsed, therefore making RCEP truly ASEAN-led and ASEAN-centric...in fact, ASEAN's trade partners, upon learning the ASEAN's solid voice, will consult their respective capitals and ponder on ASEAN's more concrete position to move RCEP forward," he said.
Asked on the timeline as to when RCEP negotiations would finally be concluded, Lopez said it would be hard to give any time frame.
"I think it was highlighted that it can take on for so many years if the participating countries would not be changing current position on the matters we discussed," he said. Celerina Monte/DMS