Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte looks on during the 20th ASEAN China Summit in Manila, Philippines, Nov 13, 2017. Duterte has stressed the need to fast-track the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. (LINUS ESCANDOR / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has stressed the need to fast-track the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), urging his fellow ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) leaders and its trading partners to conclude the mega-trade pact.
By changing global economic landscape requires us to urgently bring the negotiations to a close and to create deeper trade linkages
Rodrigo Duterte, President, Philippines
In his opening remarks during the first RCEP Summit on Tuesday, Duterte said RCEP is not simply an added agreement but a trade deal that could provide the size and scale to unleash new potentials and write new rules of the international trade order.
"By changing global economic landscape requires us to urgently bring the negotiations to a close and to create deeper trade linkages that would demonstrate our commitment to free and open markets," Duterte said.
He said the pact, which brings together 16 countries, would be one of the biggest trade deals when it enters into force as it covers almost half of the world's population and around one-third of the global gross domestic product (GDP).
Ministerial meetings and rounds of negotiation have been conducted after RCEP was launched in 2012.
"The milestones reached in RCEP negotiations throughout the years have greatly progressed and provided substantial outcomes, particularly on areas that highlight the importance we give to the inclusive growth anchored on development and capacity building," Duterte said.
Duterte noted that ASEAN in its 50th anniversary reaffirms its commitment to the free trade agreement that balances the needs of all countries but remains the high level of ambition.
Noting the "substantial outcomes" reached in the RCEP talks, Duterte expressed optimism that the RCEP Summit in Manila would give the much needed political momentum to the negotiations.
Philippine Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo said RCEP "still remains a work in progress."
"Substantial conclusion to the RCEP negotiations refers to being able to settle the modalities of trade negotiations, services, and investments," Rodolfo said. He did not elaborate.
Over the weekend, the RCEP ministers discussed the Collective Assessment Paper to the Leaders and the Joint Leaders' Statement on the RCEP.
Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the assessment paper provides an inventory of measures or targets that can be completed this year, those that need to be further discussed, and those that require reconsideration of current mandates.
"This is a welcome progress as it gives everyone a comprehensive overview of that has been achieved in the past 20 rounds of RCEP negotiations and gives us a sense of direction where to proceed and what to focus our attention on," Lopez said.
Analyst Richard Heydarian said RCEP is now being seen as the economic initiative to look at especially amid the growing tide of global protectionism.
Although he does not see any breakthrough in the near future, Heydarian said that negotiations continue.
"It's important that you continue these negotiations because we are fighting against a growing tide of protectionism," he said, warning that "protectionism will hurt everyone."
Negotiators are finalizing the targets with respect to trade and goods, services and investment under a trade agreement among the 10 ASEAN members and its trading partners China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The conclusion of RCEP will lead to the creation of the world's largest trade bloc and underscore the potential for the RCEP to serve as an engine for global growth.