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Government OKs tariff commitments under RCEP

Louella Desiderio, Catherine Talavera – The Philippine Star
April 21, 2023 | 12:00am


The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board has approved an executive order on the country’s tariff commitments for the mega trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

It also approved the social protection floor (SPF) framework, which aims to institutionalize initiatives to help the most vulnerable groups.

NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in a Palace briefing yesterday that President Marcos approved “two landmark measures that will advance our efforts toward achieving deep social and economic change, leading to a prosperous, inclusive and resilient Philippines.”

He said the first approval was for the EO operationalizing the country’s commitments under the RCEP, which was ratified last February.

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.

Balisacan said the second approval covers the recommendations for the SPF, endorsed by the Cabinet level of the Social Development Committee to institutionalize and improve the government’s current initiatives that cater to the needs of the most vulnerable Filipinos.

He said the SPF refers to nationally defined sets of basic social security guarantees that aim to prevent or alleviate poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion. It covers health including maternity care, children, active age and older persons.

For health in particular, Balisacan said the SPF advocates for the full implementation of Universal Health Care to ensure that all Filipinos have access to adequate healthcare services.

Meanwhile, the SPF for children includes initiatives aimed at providing access to child nutrition, education and care.

Balisacan said the government aims to extend social assistance and social pension programs to senior citizens under the SPF for older persons.

In addition, he said the government aims to fully implement Section 5 of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act, which provides pension coverage to all indigent senior citizens.

Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said the RCEP would 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.

Pascual explained that the RCEP agreement is a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement, which provides opportunities for market access on trade, services and investments.

He explained that essentially, the EO will maintain current preferential tariffs on about 98.1 percent of the 1,718 agricultural tariff lines and 82.7 percent of the 8,102 industrial tariff lines.

Asked when President Marcos would sign the EO on tariff commitments, Pascual said it could be between now and the second week of June.

Following the issuance of the EO, Pascual said the DTI will 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.

“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 said that the DTI would also have to do a more detailed educational campaign with the industry organizations, with 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 towards 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. – Alexis Romero