Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez finds it “more interesting” that China now seeks accession to Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is a major trade pact the Philippines is applying to be a party as well.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) chief, in an interview with the BusinessMirror, said that China’s interest to be part of the trans-Pacific trade agreement shows it initiative to strengthen economic times with more countries.

“It can also be viewed as a recognition that an open market policy under a rules-based system indeed promotes economic development,” he said.

On September 16, China filed its application to join the 11-member free trade agreement (FTA); Taiwan followed suit after.

CPTPP, signed on March 8, 2018, comprises Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. The Asia-Pacific trade pact was launched by the United States to rival economic giant China, but former President Donald Trump withdrew their position in 2017.

“China, in joining CPTPP, makes it more interesting since we are also in RCEP [Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership] together,” Lopez said.

RCEP signatories include the 10 Asean member-states and their FTA partners: Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.

Earlier this year, Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo confirmed that the Philippines signified its interest to join the CPTPP and wrote to New Zealand, the depository country of the FTA.

Rodolfo also identified five target export products that the DTI would like to secure in the deal: automotive parts, garments, agricultural commodities, processed agricultural products and plant-based meat alternatives, and electronics.

“Philippines as a trading nation, and as an economy that adopts an open market policy for trade and investments, is highly interested in joining the CPTPP,” Lopez said. “We are now in the process of evaluating the impact of joining the CPTPP and has made initial inquiry on the process of accession.”

While the country expressed its interest in CPTPP, Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (Philexport) Chairman George T. Barcelon said that it will likely focus more on RCEP for now.

“I believe our country will give the RCEP more priority rather than CPTPP…. It’s just this hasn’t been ratified by Congress,” he told the BusinessMirror.

The Philexport official stressed that the deal can help the country access markets even outside the Asean region.

Earlier this month, President Duterte ratified the RCEP document. It will be brought to Senate for concurrence “soon,” Lopez said in a recent event, noting that it is “on track” for implementation by January 1, 2022.

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