Your Excellencies, distinguished guests and speakers, a pleasant morning to all! Ohayō gozaimasu!

First off, I wish to express my thanks to the Philippines-Japan Economic Cooperation Committee, Inc. (PHILJEC) and the ASEAN-Japan Business Meeting for this forum.  Since ASEAN and Japan formally established relations in 1977, Japan has always been a key trade and investment partner to ASEAN as a region. Over the span of 44 years, the economic ties between ASEAN and Japan grew stronger with increased cross-border trade and investments. This long-standing relationship resulted in concrete outcomes including a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement as well as various economic and industrial cooperation initiatives.

Most recently, ASEAN-Japan economic relations was further strengthened with the entry-into-force of the First Protocol to amend the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership or AJCEP. We are confident that this enhancement to the AJCEP will restore business confidence to sustain trade and investment between ASEAN and Japan, particularly as we rebuild our economies in the post-pandemic era. As country coordinator for ASEAN-Japan Economic Relations, the Philippines will closely coordinate with AJCEP Parties to ensure the smooth implementation of the First Protocol.

Moreover, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Economic Ministers of ASEAN and Japan set out a collective response to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic to the region’s economy through the ASEAN-Japan Economic Resilience Action Plan. The specific measures in the Action Plan were intended to help stakeholders survive, become more resilient, and continue operations under the New Normal. ASEAN Member States remain committed and will work closely with Japan to ensure the effective implementation of this initiative.

We also welcome the ASIA-Japan Investing for the Future Initiative, a new economic cooperation proposal of Japan. We see the potential of this initiative in terms of contributing to ASEAN’s regional economic integration and post-pandemic economic recovery efforts. Through this initiative, ASEAN and Japan can collaborate to advance ASEAN’s agenda on innovation and sustainability, including ASEAN’s transition to circular economy. We look forward to working with Japan and other ASEAN Member States in ensuring that we cultivate concrete activities and outcomes from this initiative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant social and economic disruptions which have affected peoples’ health, livelihoods and economic activities in the region. Indeed, there is the need to take a collective course of action to strengthen and enhance economic cooperation to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and usher in recovery efforts.

Thus, the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement is a welcome development. This modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial Agreement will provide the much needed and timely boost for economic development that will play a crucial role in the post-pandemic recovery efforts, not only for the Philippines and Japan but for the rest of the region and the world.

RCEP is a strong demonstration of the region’s commitment, including the Philippines’ and Japan’s, in ensuring a stable and predictable regional economic architecture amidst uncertainties and the growing trend in protectionism worldwide. With an open, fair, and rules-based trading system, RCEP will help restore business confidence and encourage more economic activities, particularly for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), investors, service providers, and professionals. This is a significant step forward to deepen ASEAN-Japan relations, anchored on ensuring economic development and growth among our peoples.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is working to complete the domestic ratification process for the RCEP Agreement as soon as possible. While there are some expected delays due to the upcoming national elections and the schedule of the Senate, the DTI is optimistic that the Philippines will be able to join RCEP soon.

RCEP remains to be a top priority of the Philippine government as it is an important tool to sustain economic growth and attract investments in the country. Moreover, trade pacts such as RCEP will be key in reestablishing our supply chains and ensuring that even our MSMEs take part in global value chains.

Thank you once again to the ASEAN-Japan Business Meeting Chairmen, Mr. Gerard B. Sanvictores and Mr. Nobuhide Hayashi.

May you have a fruitful and rewarding discussion.

Thank you, arigatōgozaimasu, and mabuhay!

Date of Release: 10 March 2022