PH Asean hosting delivers results
The country’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ended last week with several hits and just one miss, and Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez described it a “tremendous success” nonetheless.
The Philippines promised 11 economic priority deliverables this year in a bid to forward inclusive growth. All of these were achieved except for the substantial conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade deal that would link more than a third of the global economy.
The 31st Asean Summit and Related Summits on Nov. 13 and 14, which were attended by a number of state leaders, capped the country’s turn as chair of the bloc as it handed the responsibility over to next year’s chair, Singapore.
Lopez, who chaired the Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) this year, noted that past initiatives were made to ensure that those at the bottom of the pyramid could participate in trade through the development of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
“That’s why we consider the Philippines’ 2017 Asean Chairmanship a tremendous success as it was achieved through the concerted efforts of the 10 Asean Member States (AMS) and continuous open dialogue and cooperation with external partners,” he said.
This year, Lopez pointed out that Asean has moved to further enhance existing free trade agreements (FTAs), which were “expected to generate new openings for business opportunities, especially for the MSMEs,” naming separate FTAs with Japan, South Korea, Australia-New Zealand and India.
Moreover, officials representing the Asean and Hong Kong signed last week the Asean-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Agreement (AHKFTA) and the Asean-Hong Kong Investment Agreement (AHKIA). This marked Asean’s sixth FTA and the first FTA that the bloc signed in almost a decade.
Edward Yau Tang-wah, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, called these deals a “loud and clear vote for freer and more open trade” in the face of rising protectionism.
Asean has also been exploring in the past months the possibility of having FTAs with other countries and economic blocs such as Canada, the European Union and Russia. In the case of Russia, the Asean wanted to do it through a region-to-region deal with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
However, in the face of all these existing and possible FTAs, the Philippines has been looking to announce a substantial conclusion of RCEP under its chairmanship. However, during one of the press briefings in the Asean summit last week, Lopez said the RCEP talks remained a “work in progress,” missing the window of opportunity of making such announcement as the country’s chairmanship came to an end.
Half a decade has passed since RCEP negotiations began among Asean member states and six FTA partners—Australia, New Zealand, India, Korea, Japan and China.
According to the Asean website, the objective of RCEP negotiations was to have a “modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement.”
In other words, this meant that the RCEP had the potential to deliver “significant opportunities” for businesses in East Asia—including small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—since they would gain better market access to the 16 countries involved, which collectively account for close to half of the world’s population.
While progress has been made, contentious issues— which trade officials have kept secret—prevented further steps from being taken.
According to the DTI, the country’s economic deliverables were in line with three strategic measures, namely increasing trade and investment; integrating MSMEs in the global value chains, and developing an innovation-driven economy.
All of this is aimed at achieving inclusive growth. Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo, who is also the Philippine lead in AEM meetings, described this as “inclusive globalization”—a situation where every country wins, as opposed to some having the better bargain than others.
According to DTI, the 11 deliverables were:
The completion of the Focused and Strategic (FAST) Action Agenda on Investment, which aligns with the goals and four pillars of the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA);
The successful conduct of the first full country visit in the Philippines on Oct. 9 to 13, which was a crucial component of the AEC 2025 Monitoring and Evaluation Framework;
The adoption of the Asean Seamless Trade Facilitation Indicators (ASTFI) by the AEM in September 2017;
The operationalization of the Asean Ro-Ro (Roll-On, Roll-Off) connecting Davao-General Santos to Bitung, which was launched on April 30;
The development of the Asean Inclusive Business Framework (AIBF) to promote Inclusive Business in Asean, which was endorsed at the 49th Asean AEM Meeting in September 2017;
The adoption of the Asean Work Program on Electronic Commerce (AWPEC) 2017-2025 in September 2017 by the AEM;
The adoption by the Asean Leaders of the Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment in Asean, which was part of the Manila Statement on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) in Asean;
The Asean Declaration on Innovation, which was one of the outcome documents adopted during the Asean summit;
The substantial conclusion of the Asean Trade in Services Agreement (ATISA), which would further facilitate trade in services integration in the region through deepened commitments and increased transparency, and
The substantial conclusion of RCEP.
President Duterte, during the turnover ceremonies last Nov. 14 of the chairmanship of the Asean to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, expressed optimism about the future of the regional grouping.
“It was an honor having fruitful and productive exchanges with you on issues of regional and global importance which we hope to translate into concrete actions that would benefit the peoples of our region,” Mr. Duterte said in his speech.
He said the Philippines has already adopted and noted a number of declarations, statements and action plans across the three pillars of the Asean Community and on Asean’s relations with Dialogue Partners. The President also reiterated his commitment that the Philippines would remain steadfast in upholding the ideals and values that the Asean held dear and in working for the realization of the shared aspirations with other nations.
“We remain committed to building a strong and resilient Asean Community. Our next 50 years will require deeper efforts on the next 3Cs: Community, Centrality and Connectivity if we are to realize our Asean Vision by year 2025,” he said. “The Philippines will be there with you and will be working with you, with other Asean Member States, Dialogue Partners and external parties in moving Asean community towards building forward.”
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