By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Leaders from the 16 members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) concluded yesterday their first ever summit in Manila without reaching substantial agreement dragged by a few members who are still at loggerheads over the levels of trade liberalization.
“The substantial conclusion of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), however, still remains as a goal,” according to the statement by ASEAN Economic Ministers Chairman Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez.
Substantial conclusion of the RCEP negotiation has been one of the 11 deliverables of the Philippines’ chairmanship of ASEAN this year. Of these 11, RCEP was the lone that failed to be successfully acted upon by RCEP members.
Philippine Lead and Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo explained to reporters that the failure to substantially conclude the RCEP negotiation was largely due to the problem of two non-ASEAN countries, which cannot agree on the levels of trade liberalization with huge disparity on their offers and counter offer. Aside from the 10 ASEAN countries, the six other RCEP member countries are China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
“Actually, FTA partner countries have no problem with ASEAN and we can see that the developed countries are willing to open their markets to sectors of interest to ASEAN. The problem is among them,” he said without divulging the two countries, who have held up the RCEP negotiations.
He said that even China and Japan have generously agreed on the levels of liberalization noting the importance the RCEP members have put into this goal to substantially conclude the RCEP negotiations during this summit on hopes to counter the rising trade protectionist sentiment.
For instance, it is the first time that RCEP held their maiden Leaders Summit here. This year alone, RCEP held 3 ministerial meetings and 20 senior officials meetings already.
“ASEAN wants inclusive globalization rather than stopping, we want them to open,” said Rodolfo.
All ASEAN wants is the opening of market access for sectors relevant to micro small and medium enterprises and agriculture. Nonetheless, the ministers have endorsed to the RCEP leaders stronger push for conclusion of the RCEP by next year.
To resolve this impasse, an official privy to the RCEP discussion said members may provide for flexibility on common concessions among those with no bilateral agreements to allow certain percentage for deviation or offers that a member can give to a specific partner only to push for the conclusion of the negotiations.
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