Among the important items taken up in the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Singapore was the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which seeks to forge new trade relationships in this part of the world.
The initial RCEP proposal was made in 2011 that would bind together an East Asian Free Trade Area and Japan’s Comprehensive Economic Partnership of East Asia. The next year, the economic ministers of the ten ASEAN member states and partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand endorsed the guiding principles and objectives for negotiating the proposed RCEP. China’s support for the plan was deemed crucial, being the largest economy in the region.
The United States proposed a rival Trans Pacific Partnership, with selected states in the proposed RCEP but excluding China. The TPP initiative, however, collapsed when new United States President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the TPP which it had proposed.
Since the collapse of the TPP, however, the RCEP has grown from strength to strength, drawing in India, one of the fastest growing economies of the world today. China would have a key role in the regional trade group, as the biggest importer and exporter of goods and services in the region. At the recent China International Import Exhibition, President Xi Jinping said China will be importing $30 trillion worth of goods and $10 million worth of services in the next 15 years.
The Philippines has called for a “pragmatic direction” in the RCEP talks. “It is about time that we shift gears and lean towards being more realistic than idealistic,” Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez told his fellow ministers at the 5th intercessional meeting in Tokyo last June, 2018. “We should also keep in mind that this mega-regional trade pact should be inclusive and progressive and should cater not only to today’s generation but also of the future.”
At the start of the recent ASEAN summit in Singapore, President Duterte endorsed the negotiations for RCEP which would cover twice the economic size of the defunct TPP. India is said to be asking for further concessions, in line with the group’s openness to negotiations and for a “Win-Win” situation – a motto of China –and the most basic principle that lies at the heart of ASEAN, that decisions are reached by consensus, never by divisive voting.
We look forward to the speedy conclusion of these talks which would make us part of a major regional economic bloc, a good platform for greater cooperation in trade and services as well as investments and economic and technical development programs among its members and for negotiating with other regional blocs.