The decision to delay ratification came after a group of farmers, fishers, civil society organizations and the private sector in the Philippines expressed strong opposition to the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The development came ahead of the Indian foreign minister’s three-day visit to Manila starting this Sunday. The visit comes after India and the Philippines signed a $374.96 million deal last month, under which New Delhi will export BrahMos missiles to the ASEAN country.
A position paper released by the Free Farmers Federation (FFF) of the Philippines had urged the country’s Senate to delay approving the free trade pact due to a lack of consultation with farmers and other stakeholders. The FFF’s position paper also warned that RCEP’s proposed rules will “significantly impede the enforcement and effectiveness of trade remedies.”
But Philippine Commerce Secretary Ramon Lopez remained optimistic that the Senate will eventually accept the country’s participation in RCEP when the session resumes this year.
Ernesto Ordonez, the Philippines’ former undersecretary for agriculture and commerce, also backed the protesters and suggested the country look into India’s decision to stay out of RCEP. Ordonez believes that rushing to strike trade deals without due diligence could lead to the death of businesses, loss of jobs and a significant increase in poverty.
“Is RCEP hurtful to our citizens, and therefore should we withdraw from RCEP like India did? If due diligence has not been done, our Senate should postpone the decision to approve RCEP until the required work is done,” Ordonez recently wrote in a column for the English daily Inquirer.
The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Brunei, as well as trading partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand signed RCEP in 2020. RCEP was first introduced in November. 2011 at the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia. Negotiations began in early 2013.
India was originally a member of RCEP’s drafting committee in 2011, but in 2019 the country pulled out of the agreement citing some major concerns that have not been resolved. One was the risk posed by imports to domestic industries. The Philippines is the only other country among RCEP negotiators where groups have expressed similar concerns.
The free trade agreement aims to make products and services available to ASEAN member states and FTA partners. It will also eliminate a series of tariffs – taxes imposed on goods and services imported from another country – within 20 years.
The FFF, however, said it had seen “no clear and consistent basis for classifying agricultural tariff lines in the country’s list of tariff concessions”.
FFF National Director Raul Montemayor recalled in the position paper, “The RCEP agreement, including its legal text and schedule of Philippine commitments, was finalized without consultation with agribusiness stakeholders. fisheries, many of which are directly affected by trade rules and treaty concessions”.
The FFF’s position paper also warned that RCEP’s proposed rules will “significantly impede the enforcement and effectiveness of trade remedies.”
The FFF said that under RCEP, several existing import policies were at risk of being scrapped.
But Lopez said RCEP will play a role in driving equitable economic growth, including for MSMEs, through expanding regional ties in trade, services and investment.
Francis Mark Quimba, a researcher at the Philippine Institute of Development Studies, was quoted in an article by the state-run Philippine News Agency as saying the country could lose 2% GDP growth if the government does not ratify not RCEP.