On Sunday, representatives from the 16 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) countries meeting to negotiate a trade pact to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) said a deal before year-end is unlikely.
But, the economic ministers, who are in talks about the RCEP agreement vowed to make major progress by November in Manila. "The ministers will finalize the RCEP key elements for significant outcomes by end 2017, which clearly outlines the negotiating areas viewed as realistically achievable by end of the year," Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.
RCEP includes trade-in goods and services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property rights, competition policy, and dispute settlement, among others.
Lopez declared in a statement that the ministers are "hard at work to resolve the key outstanding issues." that are slowing down the negotiations and seek options that provide flexibilities to move forward.
The RCEP has more than 3.5 billion people or half the world’s population, and 30 percent of global gross domestic product and trade. The 16 nations are China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The RCEP negotiations began back in 2013, prompting Lopez to urgently push for an agreement before the 20th RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) negotiations in South Korea next month.
“With the 20th RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee negotiations next month (in South Korea), as well as the leaders’ meeting in November, all countries are hard at work to resolve the key outstanding issues in the negotiations,” Philippine Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo said in a briefing.
“... At this critical juncture where there is a general slowdown in growth across the world and rising protectionist mindset, it is important for the RCEP to step up and set the example for the pursuit of freer trade,” he also said, speaking on behalf of the Philippine government, which is chairing Asean activities this year.
Tariff deficits contributed significantly to the abandonment of the negotiations during the first year.
On Thursday, Lopez encouraged Asean members to push for a speeding resolution to RECP. He said the "the substantial conclusion" of the negotiations are integral to Asean's overall economic agenda.
"It is a priority deliverable for the Philippines' chairmanship of Asean 2017 and in time for the 50th anniversary of Asean," he explained.
The RCEP is considered a suitable alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but it suffered setbacks and was dealt a huge blow when U.S. President Donald Trump was elected.
RCEP is “the only game in town given the current negotiations of the TPP,” said Rodolfo. "Achieving a single set of rule to do business with member countries will significantly facilitate the conduct of business and spur growth of our industries," he added.
The ministers were meeting as part of the 49th Asean Economic Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings.