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Philippines revives plan to join Trans-Pacific trade bloc

“We have not been included in TPP before and now that some countries in TPP have not even supported it, there is less reason for us to consider it,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez earlier said. File

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is reviving its plan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) even as the mega-trade deal pushes through without the US, the Department of Trade and Industry said.

The country recently conveyed its intention to join the TPP to Japan, one of the stronger economies part of the now 11-country pact, DTI said.

The Philippines earlier shelved its plan to join the TPP after President Donald Trump announced the US is backing out of the deal.

“We have not been included in TPP before and now that some countries in TPP have not even supported it, there is less reason for us to consider it,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez earlier said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has also been vocal about his disdain for the TPP, saying earlier he too would reject the trade agreement.

The renewed expression of interest to join the TPP during a recent bilateral meeting between Lopez and Japan Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, however, indicates the Philippines is having a change of heart.

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As an update to the status of the TPP, Japan said two negotiating rounds have been concluded between them and Australia, and both are scheduled to meet for the third time.

Japan is confident the agreement in principle will be established by November.

Even without the US, the TPP is seen pushing through with 11 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan.

Joining the TPP is seen to provide more opportunities that will further strengthen the Philippines’ foothold in the global market with the country’s enterprises, workers, and consumers benefiting from bigger markets and increased foreign investments.

Duterte, however, said the deal would be disadvantageous especially to people taking medicines daily as it would prevent the Philippines from buying cheap medicines from countries like India and Pakistan.

Foreign business leaders earlier said they remain hopeful the Philippines would pursue its participation in the TPP even with the US not part of it, citing various benefits and opportunities in store for the country.

“AmCham is still hopeful that the TPP will become a reality, even without the United States initially, in which case the Philippines should study carefully the possibility to join,” “American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines senior advisor John Forbes said.

European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines president Guenter Taus, for his part, said he believes continuing to join the negotiations for the TPP would still be extremely beneficial for the Philippines even without the US.

“In the 21st century and in a globalized world, it might not be the smartest move to go back to a 20th century protectionist approach. Additionally, the Philippines is in a good position to join since it has also already established free trade agreements (FTA) with some, and good relations with most of the countries that are part of this FTA,” Taus said.

For the meantime, the Philippines has its sights fixed on concluding what is now dubbed as an “ASEAN-led” Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement.

Conclusion of the RCEP, however, continues to stall given the difficulties in reconciling differing and opposing interests and views among the 16 participating economies.

“The RCEP has entered a critical phase and, as in any negotiations there are familiar challenges arising from multiple parties with differing stages of development and varying interests,” Lopez said.

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