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RCEP ratification seen making progress after show of support from Marcos, Cabinet

THE DEPARTMENT of Trade and Industry said the ratification process for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is moving forward after it received the backing of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and the Cabinet.

Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual told reporters in a recent media briefing that Mr. Marcos has completed his review of the RCEP, adding that the Cabinet has requested the concurrence of the Senate.

“When I asked President Marcos about the RCEP, he said that he has reviewed it and that it is okay with him. We had a Cabinet decision in October in one of our meetings. The Cabinet, as a whole, made a decision to request the concurrence of the Senate,” Mr. Pascual said.

“We have prepared communication from the Executive, so that the President can submit to the Senate. It is just a matter of sequencing the Senate’s activities. They just finished approving the 2023 budget and then they will tackle RCEP. We are seeking the Senate’s concurrence as required by our laws,” he added.

Mr. Pascual said many potential investors are weighing the Philippines’ participation in the free trade agreement (FTA) before investing.

“I’d like to point out that every time I meet a prospective investor, the initial question is will the Philippines ratify the RCEP because if they set up a factory here, they want to be able to export to all the RCEP-member countries competitively. That can be best helped by reduced tariff or no tariff at all. That is important,” Mr. Pascual said.

Mr. Marcos had called for a review of RCEP to ensure agriculture is adequately protected.

RCEP, billed as the world’s largest FTA, started coming into force in the various jurisdictions on Jan. 1. The trade bloc includes the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

The Philippine Senate failed to ratify the FTA before the previous Congress ended over agriculture protections.

Former President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed on to RCEP in September 2021.

Separately, Trade Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said that the signing of the FTA between the Philippines and South Korea is expected by the first quarter of 2023.

Mr. Rodolfo said that the FTA signing was delayed due to the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.

“The agreement is ready to be signed. Actually, as early as a month ago, the FTA is ready to be signed. We were foreseeing before that the APEC meetings would be a good opportunity to sign this. But both sides agreed that for it given the prominence that it deserves, being an FTA between Philippines and Korea, it would be best to be sign it either in Manila or in Seoul,” Mr. Rodolfo said.

“There might be a meeting, maybe a presidential meeting from either side, in the first quarter of next year,” he added.

The negotiations for the FTA with South Korea began in June 2019 and concluded in October 2021.

Some of the Philippine products covered by the FTA are banana and pineapple, while South Korean products covered by the deal include vehicles and auto parts. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave