By Louella Desiderio, August 15, 2022; The Philippine Star

Manila, Philippines — The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is pushing for the immediate ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement to send a clear signal that the country is open to investments that will help generate more jobs.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters NEDA is supporting the immediate ratification of the RCEP.

Considered the world’s largest free trade agreement, the RCEP covers about 30 percent of global gross domestic product.

The free trade agreement, which was entered into by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the Philippines, with partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, aims to promote greater openness, closer integration of economies, and a more stable and predictable rules-based trading system.

“It should have been done before because it is just us and Indonesia left behind, and Myanmar,” Balisacan said.

With the mega-trade deal seeking to make the rules of trade more transparent and predictable, he said the ratification of the RCEP would make it easier for the country to encourage investors to do business in the country.

While the previous administration also pushed for the ratification of the RCEP, the Senate did not vote upon the resolution to confirm the deal during the last Congress amid concerns on the agreement’s impact on the agriculture sector.

Earlier, President Marcos cited the need to review the RCEP’s impact on the agriculture sector to make sure it would not be at a disadvantage.

Balisacan said the President has been briefed about the advantages and the disadvantages of the trade agreement.

“We have to look at that bigger picture of what we want. We said we want an increase in investment. We want the productivity of the whole economy to increase. We want our jobs to increase. So, our investors must see that we are a place that welcomes investments,” he said.

As other countries that have ratified the RCEP earlier are also seeking to attract investments, he said investors have many other places to go to other than the Philippines.

“If we say we are open to trade, open to business, open to investment, let’s adopt those parts of the governance framework for trade and investment. We cannot be left behind,” he said.

Despite strong pressure to go back to the old doctrine of self-sufficiency arising from geopolitical issues, he also said there is a need to resist this, noting the country still has many opportunities to expand trade with its neighbors and other countries.

“While there are pressures for protectionism everywhere, the truth is the global economy is still expanding, trade is still growing fast,” he said, adding the country will just need to identify areas where it has a good chance of growing.

He also said that should tensions escalate between Taiwan and China, the country would likely be affected by the disruption in the supply chain.

“There are geopolitical risks. We have to live with those. But that should not constrain you from planning for continued growth. We should be ready. For us, we have to identify what our vulnerabilities are and work around it,” he said.