• AEM hopeful on free trade talks

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    ECONOMIC ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are hopeful that better offers from other countries will close the gap in the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

    “We heard there’s a new offer in the ongoing negotiations, hopefully a better offer from other countries, to close the gap–offers [that are]hopefully closer to the ideal 90 percent to 92 percent of product inclusion of goods,” Trade Secretary and Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting Chairman Ramon Lopez told reporters over the weekend.

    A substantive part of the ongoing negotiations on the 19th RCEP Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) level in India offers the ideal range of product inclusion of goods, he said.

    The AEM Summit will be held in September 2017 at the Marriott in Manila. Earlier, the AEM had suggested the reciprocity principle to speed up RCEP negotiations.

    The reciprocity principle grants mutual and equal benefits and privileges among participating countries.

    “We are now suggesting reciprocity for the Asean members who are not ready to give, for instance, the 90 percent of product for inclusion in liberalization, maybe a lower number. And because of that, the RCEP is not moving. So, for the meantime, we will separate them and give them time to be ready,” Lopez said.

    “RCEP should be able to demonstrate that we continue to underscore the developmental function of international trade that benefits ultimately the broader base of the economy,” he said.

    To keep the momentum going, it becomes all the more important that the overall RCEP package suit the developmental needs of the RCEP Parties, he added.

    “For the Philippines, RCEP should translate to more jobs and more business opportunities leading to higher incomes for many Filipinos,” Lopez added.

    The bid to move RCEP forward requires political willingness, especially at the moment where return to economic protectionism is being considered in some parts of the world, he noted.

    As one of the key players, the Philippines, continues to push sectors wher the country has trade and export interests, such as canned tuna, fresh pineapples, mangoes, garments of synthetic fibers, raw cane sugar, crude coconut oil, cut tobacco, bananas and coconut copra oil, among others.

    RCEP was launched in November 2012 and aims to create a free trade agreement among the 10 Asean members and its dialogue partners. Once concluded, it is expected to further contribute to deepening Asean economic integration and heighten its role in global trade and investment.

    RCEP is envisioned to be a 16-nation trade pact that includes Asean along with China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. The Asean members consist of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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