MANILA — Recognizing the need of the Philippines for a deeper economic integration under a rules-based trading system and an enabling environment for investments, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Fred Pascual highlighted the crucial importance of the country’s participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement.

He emphasized that RCEP is vital to the country being considered an ideal investment destination in the East and Southeast Asian region. It assures investors that the country will remain an open market for trade and investment and that, in terms of policy direction, the country is heading towards a more investment-friendly environment.

“True, our country has already implemented game-changing economic reforms. RCEP will complement these reforms and strengthen the country’s enabling environment for business. This regional pact will open a wide range of market opportunities for investors, particularly in export-oriented enterprises, in this era where the center of economic activities is in the region. The Philippines cannot afford not to be part of this mega free trade agreement”, Secretary Pascual explained.

Further, he stressed that RCEP, like any other trade agreement, should be viewed not only in the context of market access but also in the aspect of stability of trade and investment rules. “The Philippines has only a few FTAs compared with other competing ASEAN countries. Suppose our country is seen to be reluctant to join this regional trade agreement spearheaded by ASEAN itself, such reluctance would pose many questions about the country’s trade policy direction”, the Trade Chief said.

RCEP is also seen to complement the country’s national policies and programs, including those in agriculture, MSMEs, services, e-commerce, intellectual property, competition, and sustainable development.

“Our approach to trade and investment policies is holistic, and we cannot afford to just focus on certain sectors. Our goal is a vibrant, sustainable, and resilient economy not only for businesses and investors but for the general welfare, Secretary Pascual further explained.

Likewise, he said that, “The Philippines is the remaining Signatory State that has yet to participate in this important trade deal, and this time the Philippines cannot afford not to join. It will be costly, we will miss a lot of opportunities. Our neighbors in South East Asia are already enjoying the advantages and benefits of the Agreement, and further delay can result in trade diversification and missed investment opportunities.”

For his part, Philippine RCEP Chief Trade Negotiator, Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty, assured that the concerns raised by groups of farmers are well addressed in the Agreement.

“In the course of negotiation, we made sure that concerns of stakeholders are well covered and appropriate flexibilities or policy space are provided in the agreement”, stressed Gepty.

He said that should there be increased imports that threaten the local industry, trade remedies under the WTO agreements can still be availed of. In addition, there is also an RCEP transitional safeguard to address the said scenario by allowing Parties to address injury or even threat of injury to a domestic industry through suspension of further reduction of customs duties or increase customs duties following a surge in imports as a result of a Party’s commitments under RCEP. There are also Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Measures that reaffirm Parties’ rights obligations under relevant WTO agreements.

“As we move forward, our local industries, including the agricultural sector, should look at RCEP as a platform of more and bigger opportunities. These opportunities can range from improved market access in the RCEP region, wider cumulation area, cheaper access to raw materials, trade facilitative measures, innovation, and more investments, especially in smart agriculture and research and development”, Gepty added.

Recently, business organizations, industry associations, and foreign chambers joined the urgent call for the immediate ratification of RCEP, noting its advantages for the Philippines and the region. *

Date of release: 06 February 2023