Manila Standard : Competitiveness key to PH signing regional trade pact

By Manila Standard

President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. said he wants an assessment of the country’s competitiveness first before pursuing the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.

“In my opinion, let’s have another look at it. We should study carefully what would be the effect of RCEP. If we ratify it now, what will be the effect on our farming community, on our farmers especially?” he said.

Negotiations for RCEP were started by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations together with six of its free trade partners in 2013. India, however, eventually pulled out from the free trade deal.

RCEP’s 15-member economies, including the ten ASEAN members plus Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and South Korea, together account for 30 percent of the world’s population and of global gross domestic product (GDP).

Following the Senate’s failure to ratify the trade agreement before Congress went on sine die adjournment, RCEP’s fate is now with the incoming 19th Congress.

Marcos said RCEP is good as it aims to encourage trade and engagement, but the state of the country’s competitiveness could be a stumbling block to its effectiveness.

He said the agricultural sector should be sufficiently robust to take on the competition that will ensue with the opening of the markets.

“I’m a great proponent, a believer in trade. Progressive countries are very involved in trade. All the great economies in the past 200 to 300 years really became rich because of trade and commerce,” he said.

“So, let’s have a look at it again and make sure our agri sector will not be at a disadvantage. If we ratify that, we have to ensure our system is ready to compete. Otherwise, the competitiveness of our local industries will be lost,” Marcos added.

Earlier, business organizations in the Philippines led by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), the Makati Business Club (MBC), and the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) have reiterated their call for the Senate to ratify the country’s membership in the RCEP.

Like any free trade agreement, they said RCEP provides wide economic opportunities for the country, along with certain threats to uncompetitive industries, and individual producers and their workers.

“And like in the other free trade agreements the country has joined, the overall economic gains in terms of net job creation, economic growth and price stabilization will well outweigh the costs,” they said.

The groups said the government has the responsibility to assist those adversely affected meaningfully and effectively, to allow them to achieve competitiveness or adjust to alternative products or livelihoods.

They said RCEP will help MSMEs expand market access, especially with more liberal rules of origin on traded products to qualify for trade concessions.