Lawmakers ratify entry to world's largest trade pact

Agence France-Presse
Lawmakers ratify entry to world's largest trade pact
Photos shows of senators in opening of the 19th congress at the Senate on July 25, 2022.
STAR / Mong Pintolo.

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine lawmakers approved Tuesday the country's entry into the world's biggest free trade bloc, with supporters arguing it will boost investment and jobs, but detractors warned it could hurt farmers.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership includes 10 Southeast Asian economies along with China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, with members accounting for around 30 percent of global gross domestic product.

Launched in 2012, the deal was signed in November 2020 and took effect January 2022 with most member countries ratifying the pact.

The agreement to lower tariffs and open up the services trade does not include the United States and is viewed as a coup for China in expanding its influence.

Before the Senate's overwhelming approval Tuesday, the Philippines was the last holdout to the trade deal.

President Ferdinand Marcos's administration and business leaders had lobbied the Senate to ratify the pact, citing benefits for local consumers, businesses and the wider economy.

The pact should help reduce costs and make life easier for companies by letting them export products anywhere within the bloc without meeting separate requirements for each country.

It touches on intellectual property, but environmental protections and labour rights are not part of the deal.

The Senate passed a resolution to ratify the treaty late Tuesday by a 20-1 vote, with one abstention.

"I think for us it's a game changer," Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said Tuesday. 

"Foreign investors look for places to go where there are clear rules, particularly trade facilitation, investment policies, and which are followed and not subject to change at any time," Balisacan told reporters.  

"By being a member we are saying to the world, 'we are ready for this, we play by the rules of the game, and your investment is safe with us'."

The Makati Business Club said the pact would also help Philippine companies expand overseas and accelerate job creation, adding there were "adequate safeguards" to protect local industries. 

"We also believe competition will result in better local players and better products and services for Filipinos," it said. 

However, farming groups and some lawmakers had opposed the pact for fear it could lead to agricultural imports flooding the Philippine market.

Senator Imee Marcos, the sister of the president, said measures to protect the country's interests "appear to be just ornaments".

"This is what is frightening," she said, before abstaining from the vote.

"It is not clear how the (farm) sector can capitalise on these potential gains" from joining the RCEP.

India withdrew from the agreement in 2019 over concerns about cheap Chinese goods entering the country, but may opt to join at a later date. 


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