RCEP members fail to sign free trade deal

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 04 2019 11:02 PM

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha shake hands at the 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 4, 2019. Athit Perawon, Reuters

THAILAND—After 7 years, participating countries in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) failed to sign a mega free trade deal during a summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand.

According to the Joint Leaders’ Statement on the RCEP, 15 of the 16 countries target to sign the deal next year.

“We noted 15 RCEP Participating Countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters 1 and essentially all their market access issues; and tasked legal scrubbing by them to commence for signing in 2020,” the statement read.

These are the 10 member-countries of the ASEAN bloc, which includes the Philippines, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

India has unresolved issues on the deal, which are reportedly grounded on concerns that the China-backed RCEP may lead to Chinese products flooding the country.

“All RCEP Participating Countries will work together to resolve these outstanding issues in a mutually satisfactory way. India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues,” the statement read.

It added that the agreement intends to further expand regional value chains for the benefit of businesses, workers, producers and consumers. This comes amid the growing protectionism and the trade war between the United States and China.

“RCEP will significantly boost the region’s future growth prospects and contribute positively to the global economy, while serving as a supporting pillar to a strong multilateral trading system and promoting development in economies across the region,” leaders said.

“Against the backdrop of a fast-changing global environment, the completion of the RCEP negotiations will demonstrate our collective commitment to an open trade and investment environment across the region,” they added.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said India has until next year to sign with the 15 countries.

“Only the 15 countries concluded for now since India has until next year to settle his remaining issues , and decide if he can still sign with the 15 countries next year. So the assumption now is that they are in, but must settle outstanding issues, and that we all want the 16 to sign next year,” he explained.

Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte has reaffirmed Japan's role as a longstanding partner of ASEAN in all of its facets of development.

"The Chief Executive, during the same occasion, stressed that Japan's priorities towards ASEAN fit squarely into the development of the Philippines as he called for the full implementation of the ASEAN - Japan Agreement on Technical Cooperation to enhance capacity building, as well as for the effective implementation of the ASEAN - Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership for better trade and investments," he said.

"We further note that the President manifested that he looks forward to Japan's assistance and support in building a more resilient ASEAN community as he conveyed his appreciation of its generous contribution in addressing climate change," he added.

Duterte skipped the closing ceremony of the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Nonthaburi, Thailand. He was represented by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.