Lopez plans to agree with Senate for “mega trade deal” soon

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Commerce and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said he hoped the Senate would let the Philippines join a China-led “mega trade deal” before the end of the year, despite opposition raised by agricultural groups.

At a recent forum, Lopez said he hoped the government would pass the December 31 deadline for the country to join the Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP), which accounts for around 30% of the global economy.

The RCEP was signed last year by the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five free trade agreement partners, namely: Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan and China. It included India until the latter withdrew from the negotiations.

“We just completed the defense of the RCEP last Friday in three committee hearings on foreign relations and it is now ready for the Senate plenary,” he said at the recent Arangkada Forum, an event organized by foreign business groups. According to the Department of Trade and Industry, RCEP countries accounted for 50 percent of the Philippines’ export market and 61 percent of the country’s imports last year. They also represented 11.4% of foreign direct investment entering the country in 2019.

Geopolitical tool too

Often described in international media as a China-led deal, government officials like Lopez have previously said it was in fact an Asean-led deal.

“RCEP is more than just a trade agreement. It is also a strategic geopolitical tool that could have repercussions on sovereignty and security. The most embarrassing aspect of RCEP in this regard is its close identification with China, ”said Jemy Gatdula, a lawyer specializing in international economic and constitutional law, in his weekly column in BusinessWorld.

“Now is just not the time to increase foreign entanglements as the Filipino people struggle to make a living while having to decide who will be their next president in the coming months,” Gatdula said.

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