Talks underway for Regional Economic Partnership

Published November 21, 2018, 12:07 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

e-cartoon-nov-21-2018Among 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.