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Senate OK of RCEP draws high hopes from economic leaders

Positive expectations ran high among economic managers on Wednesday after Philippine Senate's concurrence with the Marcos administration's participation in  Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega free trade deal.

Late on Tuesday, senators voted for Resolution No. 485 concurring with the ratification of the trade agreement, with only one "no" vote, and one abstention. 

Senator Risa Hontiveros voted no to the concurrence, while Senator Imee Marcos abstained.

In a statement, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said, “The ratification of the RCEP is key to a more open, transparent, and predictable trade and investment environment.”

“Deeper economic integration among the RCEP member-states will expand the country’s market access for goods and services, attract more investments, and create more and better jobs,” Diokno said.

For his part, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said that with the country’s participation to RCEP, “the Philippines has now further strengthened its position as an ideal investment hub in the region as we expand market access, facilitate trade, and align our rules and procedures with participating economies.”

“With the strong support of Congress, yesterday’s concurrence to the RCEP Agreement is a testament to the government’s commitment to creating an environment conducive for trade and investments that are catalysts for job creation, skills development, and technology transfer as we seek to transform the Philippine economy in the next six years,” Balisacan said.

Likewise, the NEDA chief said complementary to RCEP’s ratification is the recent implementation of key economic liberalization laws such as the amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, Foreign Investments Act, Public Service Act, and the Build-Operate-Transfer Law that could facilitate a more open and business-friendly investment climate.

“We welcome the prompt and decisive action of the Senate to ratify the RCEP.  We especially thank Senate President Juan Miguel ‘Migz’ Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Lorna Regina ‘Loren’ Legarda for sponsoring the RCEP ratification and for defending this much-needed agreement for the economy,” said Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman.

“The RCEP Agreement is an instrument that will further our economic trade with participating Asia - Pacific nations. We have to capitalize on the benefits of the Agreement, as it will help provide the Filipino people with more avenues for better economic opportunities and outcomes. All in pursuit of our Agenda for Prosperity,” she said.

First floated in August 2012, the RCEP is a free trade agreement covering members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and its partners Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

It was ratified by then-President Rodrigo Duterte in September 2021, and by President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. in November 2022, and had since been up for Senate concurrence.

At least two-thirds of the upper chamber must concur to an international agreement or treaty to make it valid and effective.

The Senate's nod came barely a week after its top leaders sponsored the mega trade deal in the plenary.

The Department of Trade and Industry expects the RCEP to generate a 10.47% increase in the country’s exports and a 2.02% increase in real gross domestic product.

The RCEP represents 50% of the global manufacturing output; 50% of the global automotive output; 70% of electronics; 26% of the global value chain (GVC) trade volume; 60% GVC for electrical/machinery, petroleum/chemicals, textiles/apparel, metal, and transport equipment, 35% of the contribution to global exports of electronics and machineries; and the main GVC hubs of big economies such as South Korea, Japan, and China.

Notably, the DTI has since clarified that highly sensitive agricultural products for the Philippines are excluded from the country’s Schedule of Commitments, which means that these products are still protected by tariffs.

Some of these agricultural products include swine meat, poultry meat, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbages, sugar, carrots, and rice. —LBG, GMA Integrated News