President Rodrigo Duterte has called for a deeper economic integration between member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to counter protectionism and trade-related tensions as Asean leaders vowed to transcend conflicts over trade policies and territorial disputes for the sake of stronger economies and regional stability.
Duterte, who attended the plenary of the 35th Asean Summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand, pushed for an “open and rules-based trading system” among Asean countries.
He expressed alarm over protectionism and global trade tensions that he said could undermine the progress of the Asean economies, including the Philippines.
“We need an open and rules-based trading system to sustain growth. Thus, we should ensure the continued relevance and effectiveness of the World Trade Organization, “ Duterte said.
“Asean must accelerate deeper economic integration through concrete programs and projects, such as RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership),” he added.
The RCEP, a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 member-states and its six partners — China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — is expected to be signed in 2020. It would be the world’s biggest trade deal, covering 39 percent of the global domestic product and nearly half of the world’s population.
Duterte previously noted that the Philippines also welcomes the Asean declarations and joint statements, which aim to protect the Asean population, especially the most vulnerable sectors.
He also batted for the expansion of Mutual Recognition Agreements and the empowerment of women, migrant workers and persons with disabilities.
Duterte called on Asean leaders to ensure environmental sustainability and protect biodiversity in the region’s pursuit for development.
“We must work together to address the problem of marine debris. And we must build resilient and stronger communities to adapt to the effects of climate change,” he said.
The signing of the world’s largest trade pact will likely be kicked back to 2020, according to a draft statement by Southeast Asian leaders, delaying a deal craved by China to offset a painful tariff war with the United States.
Objections by India have dashed hopes of finalizing the pact at the Asean summit in Bangkok, where members of the 10-nation bloc have been joined by the premiers of India and China.
“Most market access negotiations have been completed and the few outstanding bilateral issues will be resolved by Feb[ruary] 2020,” said a draft agreement obtained by Agence France-Presse.
Negotiations have sputtered for several years, but the statement said the text of all 20 chapters was now complete “pending the resolution of one” member, believed to be India.
But it said all members were “committed to sign the RCEP” next year in Vietnam, which will take over the Asean chair.
New Delhi is worried its small businesses will be hard hit by any flood of cheap Chinese goods creating “unsustainable trade deficits,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an interview published by the Bangkok Post.
Beijing sees RCEP as a central pillar of its trade strategy for its Asian neighborhood.
Concluding the deal has been made more pressing by the brutal tit-for-tat trade war with the US, which has chipped back at growth in China, the world’s second-largest economy.
President Donald Trump skipped the Asean summit and instead sent his national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Last year, Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence.
AFP AND AP