• Duterte pushes China-backed trade pact amid rising protectionism

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    PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has urged members of the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) to stand up against rising protectionism as he pushed for a China-led trade pact during this week forum in Manila.

    In his speech during the celebration of the 50th Asean anniversary on Tuesday, Duterte endorsed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP), which he said, “would provide further impetus to our efforts” to accelerate Asean economic integration.

    The RCEP includes the Asean-10, in addition to China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand – the countries with which the Asean already has free trade agreements.

    “We must take a serious look at the economic integration. Asean has a bigger stake than any other part of the world in standing up against protectionism and securing the rules of the game in the international trade,” Duterte said, adding he hoped negotiations on the China-led deal “should conclude swiftly” as decided by RCEP leaders in 2016.

    “I was reminded that the Trans-Pacific, it was a dream that was no longer there,” he said, referring to Trans-Pacific Parnership (TPP), the largest regional trade deal, being pushed by then US president Barack Obama.

    “Certainly, the work will continue to proceed for all of us,” the President added.

    The TPP is a trade agreement signed in February 2015 by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam. It is focused on cutting tariffs, lowering the cost of trade, as well as reducing policy restrictions or non-tariff measures to encourage free trade.

    The TPP was supposed to be the gateway for the Philippines to the US, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Canada.

    But US President Donald Trump, shortly after taking office in January 2016, withdrew from the TPP, which he described as a “job killer”.

    Duterte himself has calibrated an “independent foreign policy” shift, supposedly to strengthen ties within the region, embarking on foreign visits on each Asean country barely a year into his term.

    Meanwhile, Duterte called on the private sectors “to play a bigger role in spurring and sustaining growth” as Asean nations “work to achieve the enabling environment for businesses to thrive.”

    “Public Private Partnership must be harnessed fully to lift our peoples from poverty,” the President said.

    “Indeed, the Asean Business Advisory Council’s Alliance for Prosperity for All is showing how the inclusive business model can help achieve growth [for]our MSMEs and our peoples in the grassroots,” he added.

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