ASEAN at 50 News

Trade ministers finalizing RCEP outline

ASEAN Economic Minister in Manila. Photo by ASEAN50PH

Regional trade ministers are finalizing the key elements of a mammoth free trade deal that the Philippines is working to substantially conclude this year.

Negotiators view the outline or key elements of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) “as realistically achievable by the end of this year.”

“All countries are hard at work to resolve the key outstanding issues in the negotiations,” said Philippine Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo at a press briefing.

The agreement has two categories — market access and rules.

Negotiators are continuing with discussions on market access and the “request and offer approach to make sure that the commercial interests of each countries are reflected in the respective offers of the different partners.”

Discussions on the rules revolve around “where each country stands and what is doable and not doable.”

“If we can agree on that, then by December, by the summit this November, the ministers can give a very good assessment of what has happened over the course of the Philippine chairmanship,” Rodolfo said.

“We are very hopeful that we could provide an assessment that indeed negotiations have progressed forward significantly,” he added.

While there might not be any clear targets identified by the conclusion of the Philippine chairmanship this year, Rodolfo is confident that the process has moved forward.

“At the start of the year we said we will be tackling the modalities, tackling the targets. This one, we have already proceeded actually with the exchange and offers so that, in addition to the targets, you have a clear idea of what specific products the other country will be offering to you,” he said.

He pointed out:“If you are already able to exchange our requests and offers, it might happen that those request and offers process, you are already covering substantially what your commercial interests in each particular country is.”

RCEP is a mega-trade deal among the 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) with Australia, China, India, Japan South Korea, and New Zealand.

ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

“At this critical juncture when there is general slowdown in growth across the world and rising protectionist mindset, it is important for RCEP to step up and set the example for the pursuit of freer trade,” Rodolfo said.