ABAC PH pushes for Philippines to take advantage of regional partnerships

APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) Philippines pushes the country to take advantage of economic partnerships in the region. In a memo the council sent to Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez last May 15, the council underscored concluding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), ‘seriously consider’ joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and reaching out to the Pacific Alliance to maximize the opportunities from these agreements.

RCEP is a 16-economy trade pact between the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) states and its trade partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and New Zealand. Negotiations commenced six (6) years ago, but member parties have yet to resolve contentious issues which include goods under each economy’s sensitive lists and movement of people. Once finalized, RCEP is poised to become the world’s largest trading bloc, as this accounts for almost half of the world’s population, makes up almost 30% of global GDP, and comprises over a quarter of the world’s exports.

According to a 2016 study from Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS), the Philippines is projected to gain 3% in real GDP growth and increase in welfare by US$2 billion by 2023. RCEP is seen to benefit the local construction sector, as well as transport and machinery equipment, and services sectors, while notable improvements will be marked in agriculture and manufacturing.

TPP, now formally known as Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership or CPTPP, is a trade deal among 11 economies signed early this year. Originally including the United States before its withdrawal in 2017, the new TPP spans Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Viet Nam. Doors are open to interested parties wishing to join the economic bloc, according to a joint statement from CPTPP trade ministers.

Despite its reduced economic size – from 40% to 14% of global GDP – ABAC PH appeals that the government join CPTPP discussions once the next opportunity arises. “These may help us gain preferential access from economies we do not have existing partnerships with, such as Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Peru,” according to member Guillermo Luz.

Economic experts also note that Philippine goods may face stiff competition from Malaysia and Viet Nam, which also export similar products to CPTPP economies such as Australia and Canada.

ABAC PH also calls for the Philippine government to reach out to Pacific Alliance, which is composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. In order to broaden the agreement’s reach in trade and investments, it has admitted Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore as “associate members”. Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Thailand have also signed up as “observer” parties to the deal.

There is a big room for growth in Philippine and Latin American economic relations through Pacific Alliance. The bloc accounts for 37% of the Latin American population, 35% of its GDP, and about 50% of its exports and imports. However, trade with Pacific Alliance members has not been significant, accounting for less than 1% share in Philippine exports and imports.

“Establishing economic ties with our friends from Pacific Alliance may serve as the Philippines’ entry point to the entire Latin American market,” according to outgoing APEC Senior Official Member for the Philippines Undersecretary Manuel Teehankee.

The RCEP and TPP (or CPTPP), as well as the Pacific Alliance, are dubbed as the “pathways” to the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). FTAAP is the envisioned integrated bloc of all APEC economies, which is being pursued by building on ongoing regional undertakings. “We support these trade initiatives which will lead to a closer economic relationship with our Asia-Pacific peers. We enjoin the government to define the Philippine position in these regional agreements, and to work with the private sector in honing our country’s competitive advantage,” said ABAC PH chair Tomas Alcantara.

Taking advantage of regional trade deals is one of the five key areas underscored in the memo forwarded by ABAC PH based on the 2018 ABAC letter to trade ministers. Other issues include non-tariff measures, local services sector, MSME development, and national strategy on digital innovation.

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