Lopez eyes Senate OK of ‘mega trade deal’ soon
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said he was hoping the Senate would let the Philippines join a China-led “mega trade deal” before the end of the year, despite the opposition raised by agricultural groups.
In a recent forum, Lopez said he was hopeful the government would beat the Dec. 31 deadline for the country to sign up to the Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP), which accounts for about 30 percent 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 used to include India, until the latter opted out of the negotiations.
“We have just finished defending the RCEP last Friday in three committee hearings on foreign relations and it is now ready for Senate plenary,” he said during the recent Arangkada Forum, an event organized by foreign business groups. According to the Department of Trade and Industry, the RCEP countries accounted for 50 percent of the Philippine export market, and 61 percent of the country’s imports last year. They also accounted for 11.4 percent of foreign direct investments that entered the country in 2019.
Geopolitical tool, too
Often described in international media as a China-led deal, government officials like Lopez previously said it was actually an Asean-led agreement.
“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 troublesome aspect of the RCEP in this regard is its close identification with China,” said Jemy Gatdula, a lawyer specializing in international economic law and constitutional law, in his weekly column in BusinessWorld.
“Now is simply not the time to increase foreign entanglements when the Filipino people are struggling to make a living, while having to decide who its next president will be in the next several months,” Gatdula said.