‘Intensified campaign on RCEP, FTA benefits needed’

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — An intensified campaign on the benefits of free trade agreements (FTAs), particularly the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is needed to increase the utilization of preferential tariffs under the trade agreements, according to  the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

On the sidelines of a forum organized by the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (BCCP), Trade Assistant Secretary for Industry Development and Trade Policy Allan Gepty said that ensuring RCEP’s   high utilization rate   is an important matter that needs to be addressed.

“After the effectivity of the RCEP agreement, we really have to launch and intensify information and education campaigns. That’s why number one, we have to really come up with a lot of publications basically informing stakeholders how to utilize the RCEP agreement and other ASEAN+1 FTAs and Philippine bilateral FTAs,  including  our  preferential arrangement  like EU GSP+ (EU Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus),” Gepty said.

“So, they really have to know how to export to these foreign markets, and then of course we intend to launch this program – an education and advocacy campaign. There will be a series of workshops, seminars, info campaigns,”he said.

To complement this, Gepty said the DTI also intends to establish international trade assistance centers or FTA clinics in strategic regions and provinces so that stakeholders and businesses  can be assisted on how to utilize the  trade agreements.

Signed in November 2020 by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including the Philippines together with their trade partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, RCEP accounts for 30 percent of the world’s population, trade and gross domestic product.

It covers trade in goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, as well as dispute settlement, among others.

The RCEP is set to enter into force for the Philippines on June 2 or 60 days from the country’s deposit of the instrument of ratification to the ASEAN Secretary General on April 3.

In a Palace briefing on Thursday, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said the DTI would have to make the public and businesses in the country aware of the benefits that they can gain from RCEP, as well as the other existing preferential trade agreements, following the issuance of an executive order on the country’s tariff commitments under the RCEP.

“We will start with the major event, which is the launching of the Export Development Plan, which we have been drafting over the past few months – this will cover the period 2023 to 2028 and that will be an international trade forum where we will have a discussion on the benefits that businesses and the country as a whole can gain from RCEP and other preferential trade agreements, and also show what we are planning to do, our strategy for the next five to six years to increase the exports from our country. And of course, that’s tied up also with the investments that we are trying to bring in, particularly the export-oriented investments,” Pascual said.

He added that the DTI would also have to do a more detailed educational campaign with   industry organizations, as well as   sectoral groups to be able to explain the benefits that each of these industries can gain from RCEP.

“And after that, educational campaign and maybe toward the tail end of the educational campaign, we’ll start establishing assistance centers for businesses for possible assistance that we might be able to give to further help them implement the RCEP provisions that will favorably affect their industry,” Pascual said.

Based on a discussion paper released in December, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) emphasized the need for the government to step up its efforts to encourage companies or businesses to utilize FTAs to help them become more competitive.

PIDS researchers said  that as the country looks to pursue trade liberalization with existing and prospective FTA partners, there is a need for its FTA policy to also focus on stimulating the use of preferential tariffs among businesses under such deals.

It cited intensifying existing programs and formulating new ones to better prepare companies or exporters for FTA utilization.

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