Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez represented the Philippines in a series of Dialogue Partner Consultations of the 53rd ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) with Australia, China, European Union, Hong Kong, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US) on 13-15 September 2021 which were held via videoconference.
Recognizing the need to foster economic growth and recovery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Trade Ministers emphasized the need to strengthen economic cooperation, including in the areas of vaccine production, human capital development and the digital economy vis-à-vis deepening trade and investment relations and engagement with new dialogue partners.
Stronger Economic Cooperation
ASEAN and its dialogue partners emphasized the need for more concrete economic cooperation on key areas such as vaccine procurement, human resource development and digital trade.
This includes the call to democratize vaccine production, and research and development by partnering with the Philippines and other ASEAN Member States as a production hub for vaccines and working with research organizations to increase competency on science and technology.
In view of current efforts to address the pandemic, Trade Ministers emphasized the importance of implementing people centered policies to ensure inclusive growth and so that no one is left behind.
“The Philippines recognizes the role of a people centered policy to promote inclusive growth. We adhere to this policy and will remain a strong mover of an open, free, fair, transparent, inclusive, rules based and non-discriminatory trading system,” said Secretary Lopez.
Trade Ministers also recognized that amidst the general economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce and the digital economy has seen a remarkable growth. To ensure that the region is in the position to fully reap the benefits of this emerging industry, Trade Ministers endorsed several economic cooperation work plans and arrangements with Dialogue Partners that focus on digital economy and micro, small & medium enterprise (MSME) digital transformation, among others.
However, DTI Secretary Lopez stressed that such initiatives to promote adoption of digital technology should be accompanied by activities that will provide ASEAN workers with the capacity to partake in the benefits of the digital economy.
“It is important that the government and the private sector work hand in hand in the upskilling and reskilling of our workers to ensure inclusivity as we move towards the realization of a digital ASEAN,” DTI Secretary Lopez added.
Other areas of cooperation identified in the various economic cooperation work programs with dialogue partners include MSME development, green and sustainable economy, supply chain resilience, and trade facilitation.
Deeper Trade and Investment Relations
In further deepening trade and investment relations, ASEAN, Australia, and New Zealand called for the timely completion of the AANZFTA Upgrade Negotiations by 2022 to contribute to post-pandemic recovery and build regional economic resilience.
The exercise is envisioned to modernize the AANZFTA and ensure that its provisions and commitments remain to be relevant to businesses and emerging economic issues in the region. To this end, the Philippines re-emphasized the vital role of MSMEs in the regional economy and renewed its call for a dedicated chapter that will support the participation of MSMEs in the global trading system, and help them recover from pandemic.
“The Philippines would like to highlight the role and importance of MSMEs in the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand region, as they play a vital role in the economy. Globally, MSMEs are considered the backbone of national economies and the inclusion of this [MSME] Chapter in the Agreement will ensure that initiatives are put in place so that they can benefit from the trade opportunities in the FTA,” said DTI Secretary Lopez.
With the view of further expanding economic opportunities for the region, the Philippines also joined Australia, New Zealand, and ASEAN in welcoming Chile’s intention to join the AANZFTA. Trade Ministers recognized the opportunities that Chile’s participation in the AANZFTA will bring to both sides of the Pacific with a combined consumer base of 711.8 Million People and a GDP of USD 4.9 Trillion in 2020.
While the timeline and modality of Chile’s participation are still for discussion, the Philippines emphasized the role of Chile as the gateway of the region to South America and pushed for Chile’s participation in the FTA at the earliest possible time.
According to DTI Secretary Lopez, “The Philippines fully supports the accession of Chile to the AANZFTA, as we recognize Chile not only as a valuable trading partner of ASEAN but as an important link of the region to South America… the earlier Chile becomes part of the AANZFTA, the sooner we can reap the benefits of the economic partnership.”
Other trade agreements currently under general review include ASEAN’s FTA with China, India, and South Korea.
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