PASAY CITY — Trade and Industry Secretary Fred Pascual expressed optimism on the Senate’s concurrence to the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, following the sponsorship of no less than the Senate President himself Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Senator Loren Legarda. 

During the sponsorship speech of both Senators Zubiri and Legarda on 15 February 2023 at the Senate Plenary, the senators have delivered their respective statements on the benefits and support programs needed to ensure effective implementation of RCEP once the Philippines becomes a party.   

During the sponsorship, Senate President Zubiri presented the objective of RCEP, which is “establishing clear, stable and predictable rules in doing trade and investments in the region so that it will be more convenient and competitive for our businesses and investors.” 

He argued that the “Philippines cannot afford to isolate itself from the rest of the world or even send a signal to that effect.”  Further, he said, it has the support of various trade and industry associations in the country and that international bodies and organizations have recognized the value and importance of RCEP. 

“It provides a stable platform so that countries in the region (which account for 30 percent of global trade) can optimize their participation in the global economy or, more specifically, the global value chain,” he further said. As the only RCEP signatory state that has not yet ratified the Agreement, he called upon his colleagues to support RCEP. 

“While various countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia, have reported gains in RCEP, the Philippines is put at a disadvantage and missing out on a lot of opportunities,” Senator Zubiri added. 

On the other hand, Senator Legarda reported that RCEP underwent thorough consultations and lengthy discussions entailing 28 full rounds of negotiations, eight (8) regular and 10 intercessional Ministerial Meetings covering eight years.  This resulted in a negotiating outcome that would provide numerous economic opportunities for the Philippines while protecting the country’s interests. For instance, while RCEP offers better market access for key Philippine agricultural products, sensitive agricultural products were excluded from further liberalization.   

To fully utilize the opportunities provided by the RCEP Agreement, Senator Legarda emphasized the “need to create comparative advantages for our economic sectors. It all boils down to finding our niche and seizing opportunities, and defining our role in the regional and global marketplace.” 

“It binds us with the other participating countries — will help us achieve the right conditions to expand our markets for goods and services, create more jobs, build opportunities to strengthen the various economic sectors in ways that will make them more competitive, and more importantly, assist our MSMEs in participating in cross-border trade, as well as in regional value chains,” Senator Legarda said. 

Secretary Pascual, on the other hand, recognized the call of the agricultural sector for enhanced support to help them become more competitive in international markets and allow them to fully reap the benefits that RCEP provides. On this note, Secretary Pascual said that “I welcome the proposal of Senators Zubiri and Legarda to set up an Oversight Committee on RCEP implementation to ensure that appropriate assistance programs for local stakeholders, especially the agriculture sector, are provided.” 

He further added that “RCEP will greatly complement the country’s national policies and programs in agriculture, MSMEs, services, e-commerce, intellectual property, competition, and sustainable development. These, in turn, will facilitate the entry of more foreign investments that will aid in employment generation.” 

Various business and industry organizations have recently expressed support toward the ratification of RCEP, taking note that the Agreement will bring in more business and employment opportunities in the Philippines. *

Date of release: 17 February 2023