Trade deal hangs, but PH optimistic

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    A mega trade deal is nearing conclusion after substantial positive progress was made among trade ministers of Asean and their dialogue partners.

    Ramon Lopez, secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, expressed confidence of the preliminary conclusion of the 20 chapters of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this month, a significant improvement from just seven chapters in 2018.

    This is despite one country having opened issues on some rules.

    In what could be a make or break summit, the 16 RCEP leaders are set to tackle this week the unresolved issues that have stalled the conclusion of RCEP.

    Lopez in a statement over the weekend said the Philippines sees the conclusion of RCEP as timely as it provides a positive milestone in a global trade environment filled with uncertainties and challenges.

    He said RCEP can strengthen the rules-based system which shall encourage greater flows of trade and investments, creating more opportunities for jobs, income and prosperity in the region.

    Lopez said he and his counterpart trade ministers of RCEP countries met on November 1 to conclude the remaining chapters that will govern the deal.

    The ministers are set to report the outcome to the heads of states of the 16 RCEP participating countries at the RCEP Summit scheduled today in Bangkok, Thailand.

    The RCEP summit is part of the Asean Leaders Summit that started Saturday.

    Lopez said the trade ministers had to meet in executive sessions to resolve the remaining issues on the rules that will govern the trade and investments in RCEP that covers the 10 Asean countries plus its 6 trading partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea).

    RCEP negotiations cover 20 Chapters and this year’s negotiations were fast-tracked, to follow the mandate given by the RCEP leaders in their last year’s meeting in Singapore.

    Lopez said that as of end 2018, seven 7 chapters were concluded and several ministerial and technical negotiating meetings were held this year to ensure that the remaining 13 chapters be completed.

    RCEP covers one half of the world’s population and one third of the world’s economy and also a third of global trade. Considering its size and coverage, it took almost seven years since its commencement of negotiations in 2012.

    With the conclusion of the text-based chapters, legal scrubbing follows. There are however a few remaining bilateral negotiations needed on products and services to be covered under market access, but these negotiations are mandated to be done by Feb 2020.

    Signing is scheduled to take place next year in Vietnam, as 2020 host country.

    For the Philippines, this means greater market access in other RCEP countries for a wide range of products like major agricultural products, pineapples, coconut products, banana.

    Others are auto parts, paper, soaps, airbags, footwear, tires, just to name a few. It includes practically most traded items, with the exclusion of few sensitive products mostly in agriculture.

    For services, this means we can also provide services on research and development, agriculture, construction, air marine, transport services, legal, accounting, auditing, engineering, urban planning, medical, dental, distribution, environment, health services, as examples.