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Philippines urges ASEAN, partners to speed up RCEP trade talks

 

MANILA, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines on Thursday urged ASEAN's member states and dialogue partners to expedite talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), saying the proposed pact will "tremendously" benefit Southeast Asia.

"This partnership has tremendous opportunity to re-energize global free trade and open markets. As such, all eyes are on RCEP and how it will delicately balance meaningful outcomes that benefit all parties while addressing the sensitivities and circumstances of our economies, especially on market access and rules-based scheme," said Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez at the opening ceremony of the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meeting and Related Meetings.

"Therefore enjoin all parties to exert utmost efforts to constructively resolve outstanding issues and seek options that provide flexibilities to move the negotiations forward," he added.

"The substantial conclusion" of the RCEP negotiations remains high on the overall economic agenda of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), he said.

"It is a priority deliverable for the Philippines' chairmanship of ASEAN 2017 and in time for the 50th anniversary of ASEAN."

The RCEP is a proposed free trade pact between the 10 member states of ASEAN and the six countries with which ASEAN has existing free trade agreements - Australia, China, India,Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Lopez said ASEAN needs "to take a collective stand and arrive at a clear consensus on the vital elements for this agreement."

"Let us not miss the opportunity of announcing a substantial conclusion of RCEP negotiations especially in November (summit) or a significant breakthrough to culminate our celebration of ASEAN's golden jubilee year," Lopez said.

On Wednesday night, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also urged the ASEAN ministers to commit to fast-tracking the RCEP talks.

"As we continue to steer ASEAN's direction towards our shared goal of integrating the wider region into the economic global activity, we call on the parties in the ongoing RCEP negotiations to remain committed to delivering the agreements towards the substantial conclusion," Duterte said.

Lopez said last April that the Philippines will push for the "substantial conclusion" of the RCEP that will expand the ASEAN market from 600 million people to 3.5 billion.

Launched in November 2012, the RCEP targeted to cover trade in goods and services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property rights, competition policy, and dispute settlement, among others. It is seen as a good platform for the region to negotiate with other regional blocks.