MANILA— Despite challenges in the negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the 16 participating countries of the regional free trade deal are “optimistic to work at” the contentious issues particularly in trade in goods.
At the sidelines of the 2nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Young Entrepreneurs Carnival in Pasay City Tuesday, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters that RCEP participating countries are doing their “best effort” to agree on the range of inclusion of goods to be traded at zero tariff.
Lopez said agreement on the desired level for inclusion remains a “work in progress.”
“We’re batting for the 90 to 92 [percent] levels,” said Lopez, who is also chairman of the ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting (AEM).
He noted that 15 of the RCEP participating countries are willing to include 90 to 92 percent of their goods under liberalization, but there is still one country that can offer only 80 percent of its commodities duty-free.
“Some participants are not yet in the desired level. It’s a continuing negotiation,” the AEM chair mentioned.
“Currently, all are gunning for the 90 to 92 levels. That’s the meaningful inclusion,” he stressed.
But in the ASEAN way, a consensus must be reached to come up with an agreement.
As AEM chair, Lopez said he will present other options in order for the ASEAN and its six other dialogue partners to have better position in their document to be submitted to the ASEAN Leaders for their summit here in November.
Lopez said RCEP participating countries can adopt the reciprocity principles, or granting mutual and equal benefits and privilege among participating countries.
This means if one country can only offer 80 percent of its products to be under liberalization, that country will also be provided duty-free access only on 80 percent of its commodities even other participating countries agreed to include 90 to 92 percent of their goods in the trade deal.
Another option is that the 15 countries that can already comply with the desired level of inclusion can proceed with the agreement in the trade in goods component of the RCEP.
A country can still join the trade in goods deal once it can comply with the desired level of inclusion of the 15 countries.
Lastly, the RCEP participating countries can also adopt the phase-in principle, in which the country that cannot comply yet with the desired level of inclusion, can gradually improve the range of inclusion of goods over a certain period.
The RCEP negotiation was launched in 2012 to come up with a trade deal among ASEAN and its dialogue partners including Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.