Secretary Ramon Lopez speaking at the 18th RCEP.
Trade Secretary and 2017 ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meetings chairperson Ramon Lopez encouraged lead negotiators of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to find ways to solve pending issues that hinder the substantial conclusion of the agreement. The 18th RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee Meeting and Related Meetings is being held from 8 to 12 May in Manila.

All 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS) and the six Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners should show “political willingness to move the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) forward,” the country’s trade chief asserted.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said that political determination of all 16 RCEP participating countries is most crucial in pushing for the substantial conclusion of RCEP, following 17 rounds of negotiations since 2012.

China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India are the six FTA partners of the 10 AMS Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam and the Philippines.

Speaking at the opening of the 18th RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) Meeting and Related Meetings on 8 May, Sec. Lopez, as chair of ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting, enjoined lead negotiators to “find solutions to all remaining challenges” that hinder RCEP conclusion.

“We want to find solutions as soon as possible because I think we are nearing substantial conclusion. Let us find ways to solve remaining issues,” he said, hoping that related meetings in the future will not be pressed by the same challenges of today.

The potential 3.5 billion market

Being negotiated to bring about positive and beneficial outcomes, RCEP is seen to intensify trade and investments, lower trade barriers, facilitate trade, and galvanize the gains from regional economic integration—among the most dynamic economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

Now on its 18th round in Manila, RCEP is armed with the momentum of having thus far concluded chapters on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), Economic and Technical Cooperation, and, in principle, the Competition Chapter.

“With our markets integrated, we will be more attractive and competitive in partnering for change and in engaging the world. As host, the Philippines is keen on opening up opportunities for SMEs to play an integral role in the global value chains,” Sec. Lopez said.

The full and effective implementation of RCEP can expand the current 620 million ASEAN market to a greater integrated market of 3.5 billion with the six FTA partners, accounting for almost half of the world’s population and almost 30 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

For ASEAN, RCEP is a reflection of the organization’s thoughtful and deliberate process of integrating the region into the global economy, building on the ASEAN + 1 FTAs with ASEAN Dialogue Partners.

Sec. Lopez reiterated that RCEP should translate to generation of more jobs and creation of more business opportunities for ASEAN citizens.

Call for an expedited negotiation

“RCEP is indispensable as it is designed to be pragmatic, paying heed to the levels of development and sensitivities of each negotiating country,” explained Sec. Lopez, adding that despite the more uncertain geopolitical and economic climate, ASEAN remains resilient and progressive, inclusive and forward-looking, as evidenced by “the continued increase in trade and investments towards achieving shared economic prosperity.”

The trade chief encouraged RCEP lead negotiators to expedite negotiations without sacrificing quality and long-term economic gains to achieve a substantial conclusion of a high quality and credible RCEP by year-end.

The 18th RCEP TNC Meeting and Related Meetings ends 12 May.

“I look forward to hearing good outcomes when I meet fellow ministers at the 3rd Inter-sessional RCEP Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi a few days from now,” he concluded.