Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is scheduled to be signed in Vietnam next year.
In a statement over the weekend, Lopez said trade ministers of RCEP countries met on November 1 to conclude the remaining chapters that would govern the mega trade deal, which shall then be reported in the forthcoming meeting of the heads of states of the 16 RCEP participating countries — the countries comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) plus six trading partners — Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Lopez, however, said that one RCEP country has yet to resolve some pending issues.
The RCEP summit is scheduled on November 4 and is part of the Asean leaders summit that started on Saturday.
“RCEP negotiations cover 20 chapters and this year’s negotiations were fast-tracked to follow the mandate given by the RCEP leaders in their last year’s meeting in Singapore,” Lopez said.
As of end 2018, Lopez said, seven chapters were concluded and several ministerial and technical negotiating meetings were held this year to ensure the remaining 13 chapters would be completed.
RCEP covers one-half of the world’s population, one-third of the world’s economy, and a third of global trade. Negotiations started in 2012.
“With the conclusion of the text-based chapters, legal scrubbing follows. There are, however, a few remaining bilateral negotiations needed on products and services to be covered under market access, but these negotiations are mandated to be done by February 2020. Signing is scheduled to take place next year in Vietnam as 2020 host country,” said Lopez.
“For [the] Philippines, this means greater market access in other RCEP countries for a wide range of products like major agricultural products, pineapples, coconut products, banana,” he added.
Other products are auto parts, paper, soaps, airbags, footwear, and tires, among others.
Lopez said it includes practically most traded items, with the exclusion of a few sensitive products, mostly in agriculture.
“For services, this means we can also provide services on research and development, agriculture, construction, air, marine, transport services, legal, accounting, auditing, engineering, urban planning, medical, dental, distribution, environment, health services, as examples,” said Lopez.
The trade chief said RCEP’s conclusion is timely as it provides a positive milestone in a global trade environment filled with uncertainties and challenges.
He also said it can strengthen the rules-based system that shall encourage greater flows of trade and investments, creating more opportunities for jobs, income and prosperity in the region.