Opening Statement: Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

February 7, 2023

Senate President Pro Tempore
Loren B. Legarda

Committee on Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
Sen. Tolentino and Sen. Quezon Rooms
and via Cisco Webex
February 7, 2023, Tuesday, 10:00 a.m.

Today’s hearing is a continuation of the discussion on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Given that RCEP is said to be the world’s largest trade and investment agreement — with 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand as trading partners — it is necessary that we take careful study and consideration of the positions of stakeholders.

The free trade deal has specific provisions covering trade in goods, including rules of origin; customs procedures and trade facilitation; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures; and trade remedies.

It was reported that RCEP economies account for 29 percent of the global gross domestic product — in 2021, the global gross domestic product is $96.51 Trillion USD according to the World Bank. This affects 2.2 billion people in the region. RCEP member economies also account for 50.4% of the Philippines’ export market, 67.3% of the country’s imports and, most importantly, 58% of the country’s foreign direct investment inflows, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Also, the trade agreement offers to decrease the country’s poverty incidence by 4.97%.

But beyond exports and imports and the economic and societal benefits it offers, how does RCEP affect every Juan and Juana? How does this help improve our internal and domestic policies? How will our domestic policy align with the global agreement? What is an acceptable RCEP?

Trade agreements affect people’s lives that trade agreements must be subject to public scrutiny. The scrutiny, must of course, be based on facts.

Opposition to this measure has raised as an issue the Philippines’ long-standing trade deficit which, as of January 2023, stood at $58.3 billion. The Department of Agriculture reported that about P667.5 million worth of agriculture and fishery products were smuggled into the country, while the Bureau of Customs (BOC) seized P1.99 billion worth of agricultural products.

These issues are alarming, and our government should address the possible distributional effects of a trade agreement by targeting domestic decisions. Now is the time better than any for those of us, upon whom our laws have assigned mandates and duties to perform, to ensure that there are measures and policies in place. To protect the interest of our country and the people must be as necessary to enforce laws and rules.