China says the Philippines will play a key role in a proposed regional free trade agreement led by China.
According to the Department of Finance (DOF) a visiting high-level Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Wang Yang underscored the crucial role that the Philippines will play in the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The RCEP is a free trade agreement that includes the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Korea and China.
It is seen as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which was led by the United States.
The DOF said that in his meeting with Duterte Cabinet officials in Davao City last week, Wang cited "the Philippines' irreplaceable role in the discussions of RCEP and highlighted that 'ASEAN centrality' will be crucial in the conclusion of the agreement."
Wang also expressed China's support for the Philippines' chairmanship of ASEAN, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
The DOF added that Wang emphasized that China considers the ASEAN as a "diplomatic priority" and that the Philippines, as chair of the ASEAN this year, will "make a big contribution in the regional cooperation."
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III meanwhile said that together with China, the ASEAN can lead growth in the regional economic front that is not only a rapid one but inclusive to all members of society, according to the DOF.
Dominguez also shared the Duterte administration's optimism on the early conclusion of the talks on the China-led RCEP.
"We look forward to continue the discussions on the promotion of free trade partnership via the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership where China is also taking the lead," Dominguez said.
"We are very much optimistic for its early conclusion which would help us further diversify our export markets," Dominguez added.
RCEP's membership of 16 countries account for almost half of the world's population, almost 30 percent of global GDP and over a quarter of world exports.
The proposed agreement covers trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property rights, competition policy, and dispute settlement, among other issues. It does not cover labor, environment and state-owned enterprises.
The DOF also said that Wang met with President Duterte in Davao City on the implementation of the Philippines' large-scale infrastructure projects through Chinese grants and concessional loans.
Dominguez and China Commerce Vice Minister Fu Ziying, also formalized an agreement on preliminary feasibility studies for the proposed Davao City Expressway and the Panay-Guimaras-Negros Island Bridges Project.
Fu and Secretary Ernesto Pernia of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) also signed the Six-Year Development Program (SYDP) that "aims to steer and promote the stable and orderly development of economic cooperation between the two countries."