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PRIB: [TRANSCRIPT] Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP: The Way Forward press briefing)

PHILIPPINES, February 25 - Press Release
February 24, 2023

REGIONAL COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP (RCEP: THE WAY FORWARD PRESS BRIEFING)

Date : Friday, February 24, 2023

Time : 11:00 a.m.

Venue : Centennial Hall A, Manila Hotel

Rizal Park, Ermita, Manila

ATTENDANCE

SENATORS:

HON. JUAN MIGUEL "MIGZ" ZUBIRI - Senate President

HON. LOREN LEGARDA - Senate President Pro-Tempore

GUESTS/RESOURCE PERSONS:

Hon. Alfredo E. Pascual - Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)

Hon. Allan B. Gepty - Assistant Secretary, DTI

Hon. Ann Claire C. Cabochan - Assistant Secretary, DTI

Moderator

Ms. Cely Bueno - DWIZ, Broadcast Media Radio Reporters

Mr. Raymund Dadpaas - DZRH, Broadcast Media Radio Reporters

Ms. Sherrie Ann Torres - ABS-CBN, Broadcast Media TV Reporters

Mr. Wilnard Bacelonia - Philippine News Agency, E-News/Online Media

Mr. Paolo Romero - Philippine Star, Print Media Reporters

Mr. Marlon Ramos - Philippine Daily Inquirer, Print Media Reporters

AT 11:38 A.M., ASSISTANT SECRETARY ANN CLAIRE C. CABOCHAN, THE MODERATOR, CALLED THE PRESS BRIEFING TO ORDER.

THE MODERATOR (MS. CABOCHAN). Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual, Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty, esteemed members of the media, a very good morning. Thank you for joining us for RCEP Way Forward Press Briefing. I am Assistant Secretary Ann Claire Cabochan of the DTI, and I will be your moderator for this event.

This morning we will be hearing insights on the benefits of the world's largest free trade deal for the Philippines, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) of which the Senate concurred its ratification last Tuesday, 21st of February, 2023.

To recall, in November 2020, ASEAN member states and five of its FTA partners, Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, signed the RCEP agreement. Considered to be the largest FTA in the world in terms of population and trade upon its entry into force, the agreement is seen by many as a renewed commitment of the region to open markets, facilitate trade, and achieve deeper economic cooperation as a way to build back better and stronger from the global and regional economic uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The DTI, in cooperation with the offices of the Senate President, Senator Zubiri, and Senate Pro Tempore Legarda is spearheading this briefing as part of our efforts to inform the stakeholders of the FTA that is expected to advance economic integration and play an important role in the post-pandemic recovery of our country and of the region.

For today's engagement, we will be hearing messages to be delivered by the DTI secretary, as well as our distinguished co-sponsors of the RCEP. This will be followed by an open forum where participants will be given the opportunity to comment or to raise the questions to the points conveyed by the speakers.

So, at this point, it is my honor to call on Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri for his message.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much, Asec.

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat, sa Senate reporters. Alam ko ang alam ninyo, magla-lunch tayo pero mas bongga itong lunch na ito because I invited, of course--we invited Secretary Pascual with the DTI, together with Senator Loren Legarda and DTI Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty. And we would like to, of course, focus muna on the discussions on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. And I know, marami pa kayong katanungan dito sa RCEP at mayroon din po tayong kailangang mga liwanagin dahil pagkatapos natin ipasa noong last Tuesday ang RCEP, may mga grupo pa rin, siyempre, bumabatikos dito sa partnership na ito, but--sana po, kaya natin na sagutin ito lahat.

So, I will keep the introduction short. Let me just briefly reiterate the most important points about RCEP.

We are joining the largest free trade agreement in the world. Ito po ang pinakamalaking free trade agreement sa buong mundo. Talo po iyong North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA. Talo pa po iyong ibang mga trade agreements in other countries. This comprises 30 percent of the world's population; 30 percent of the world's GDP; 30 percent of the world's trade in 15 countries. Iyong sampung bansa ng ASEAN or Association of Southeast Asian Nations and you have China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. So, talagang napakalaking trade body ito.

And sabi nga nila, ito ba ay makakatulong--nakatulong na ba ito sa ibang bansa sa ASEAN? I'm happy to announce that in 2022, when several ASEAN countries have already ratified this measure--for example, Vietnam's exports to RCEP countries reached 108 billion in 2022, 16.4 percent ang pag-akyat, 16 percent increase. Thailand's exports to RCEP countries since they started with RCEP reached 140 billion in 2022, that is a 7.1 percent increase. Iyong Cambodia, lalo na iyong garments industries, they earned $10 billion in just the first three quarters of 2022, that is 20 percent year-on-year growth pagpasok po nila sa RCEP. Kaya sinasabi ko nga, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, hindi ba? Sabi nila, may mga studies pero ito na, ito na ang pinakamagandang study which is, basically, the outcomes of these countries.

And also, if we join RCEP, we are looking at possibility of 2 percent increase in GDP. Pag talagang ginamitan natin itong mga advantages ng RCEP, kaya pa nating umakyat ng 2 percent increase in GDP. At ito siguro ang pinakamaganda, within eight years, by 2031, as studied by Dr. Cesar Curaraton, is that we will have about an additional 1.4 million jobs by 2031. That is 308,000 jobs in agriculture; 77,000 jobs in industries; and 991,000 in services. Ganoon kadami ang aming expectations sa pag-approve nitong measure na ito.

On the agricultural concerns, kasi, marami ngang bumabatikos sa atin na, "Bakit naman natin nai-rush ito? Kawawa naman ang agrikultura," nakikita naman namin ni Senator Loren Legarda, my Senate President Pro Tempore, that number one, hindi kasama ang major agricultural products dito sa RCEP na ito. Ang ibig ko pong sabihin, as is. Status quo ang tariff rates ng mga agricultural products katulad ng mais, palay, bigas, rice, corn, iyong grains, fruits and vegetables - walang maiiba. Pati iyong karne ng baboy, ng manok at baka, walang maiiba sa taripa nito.

So, whether we join RCEP or not, it is the status quo.

So, definitely, joining RCEP will be an advantage to many other industries that need the export markets. Kaya napakaganda at napakahalaga nito for the garments industry ng Pilipinas; furniture industry ng Pilipinas; manufacturing industries ng Pilipinas; iyong paggawa po ng tuna; paggawa po ng sardinas; paggawa po ng canned fruits, puree, and the like; fruit cocktails and the like, para makapasok po sa mga panibagong markets katulad ng New Zealand at Australia, and of course, in China, and Korea as well as ASEAN countries, and of course, in Japan.

So, I would like to reiterate, all our major agricultural products are excluded from tariff liberalization. Pero, kahit papaano, gumawa po kami ng hakbang at hindi ko na babanggitin iyon. I will leave it to Senator Loren Legarda because she was leading the special technical working group (TWG) kasama ng stakeholders. Iyong nailagay po namin dito sa Resolution na ito, which are the guidelines--Ito po iyong guidelines. Ito po iyong tinatawag nating instructions to government agencies ay galing po sa mga stakeholders, and I will allow Senator Loren Legarda to discuss this further. I also want to congratulate her because we also are setting up a special oversight committee which she will be heading. Because, also, she believes in putting our money where her mouth is, basically, iyong sinabi niya, "We will oversee this all," iyan ang mangyayari.

And mayroon ding isang--well, Mr. Ordoñez came out with an article the other day. Ang sabi niya, nagpapasalamat siya dahil nailagay itong mga guidelines dito--Ernie Ordoñez, you know, is one of the oppositors. Pero may kakulangan pa, dahil ang pangako daw ni Senator Zubiri, we will come up with a multi-stakeholder advisory board. Ang sagot ko po diyan, let us elect first the Special Oversight Committee on Monday. Once we elect the Special Oversight Committee on Monday, the head of the Special Oversight Committee now will come up with her--sorry, we did it na pala, tapos na pala. Wednesday, we elected the Special Oversight Committee which the Senate President Pro Tempore is in charge, the chairperson. She will now come up with her advisory board. So, iyan na. At least, pati iyong mga oppositors, kasama na sa advisory report.

So, with all that, now it is in the hands of government on how we can make this work. Kamay na ng Executive iyan. Wala na po sa aming kamay.

Nagpapasalamat po ako sa dalawampu na senador na sumama sa amin sa pag-ratify nito. We also thank, of course, the opinions of Senator Risa Hontiveros who said "No," as well as Senator Imee Marcos who abstained. We respect each and every position of each and every member of the Senate. But I would like to make special mention to the 20 that stood fast and looked at the totality, in totality of how this can help our country move forward.

Hindi po tayo puwedeng maging isolationist. Ibig ko pong sabihin, parang North Korea. Hindi po tayo puwedeng parang North Korea sa ASEAN. We have to join the largest trading group to avail of all the benefits for our people. And I stand by my vote, I stand by my position that this will be able to be a springboard for our country as a major trading hub in the region.

So, maraming salamat.

Asec, thank you.

Thank you again to my dear Senate President Pro-Tempore, Senator Legarda; Allan, our chief negotiator and DTI Assistant Secretary; and, of course, our very dear secretary, Secretary Pascual, for the support. Day one, hindi po siya absent; nandoon po siya sa deliberations nito. Again, maraming salamat po.

Pleasant good morning to all.

THE MODERATOR. Thank you, Senate President Zubiri.

And now we kindly call on Senate President Pro-Tempore Loren Legarda for her message.

SEN. LEGARDA. Thank you very much.

The Senate President has said it very briefly and comprehensively.

First of all, I would like to thank you, Senate President Migz Zubiri, for giving me the challenge to head the subcommittee. When no one else wanted to do it, I heard my name being called in plenary. I don't think they even asked me. In short, si Majority Leader designated--they volunteered me when I was in the comfort room, and I heard my name being called.

And I said, "What is that?"

"You are chairing the subcommittee on foreign relations for RCEP."

I said, "Why?"

He said, "You are designated. That is your leadership role."

"Okay."

So, I take on the responsibility. And right away, I approached the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I said, "Tell me, what is wrong with RCEP?" And I was assured, there is nothing wrong with RCEP. It is the agriculture sectors neglect and the smuggling and many other issues in the trade deficit, but not RCEP itself. I went to the other former Chair of Foreign Relations who defended it for one year. I said to Sen Koko, "What is wrong with RCEP?" He said that, essentially, there is nothing wrong with RCEP; it is the smuggling and the lack of support in the agriculture sector.

So, thank you for giving me the challenge. But thank you all the more for the support that you and the leadership and our colleagues had given me.

You are correct, the RCEP is the biggest trade agreement the world has ever seen to date. As the Senate President mentioned, that is one third--29 percent of all our trade around the world; 29 percent of the global population; 29 percent of global GDP.

Now, let us go to the bottomline. Ano ba ang magagawa ng RCEP para sa atin? According to studies conducted--and one is by Dr. Cororaton--by 2031, there will be an increase in GDP, real GDP, by almost 2 percent--1.93 percent. Hindi natin matatawaran ang 2 percent na pag-akyat ng gross domestic product and reduction, pagbaba ng consumer price index, by almost point five (.5) percent--0.48 percent; and increase in factor prices for skilled wages by 1.61 percent; increase in 1.47 percent for unskilled wages; increase in factor prices for returns and capital by 1.45 percent, and land rent(?) by 0.74 percent.

Ano ba ang ibig sabihin...? There is projected--I hope it comes true--and this is the collaborative effort, not of the legislature but of the executive departments - DA, DTI, NEDA, Customs, DOF, everyone. There will be a reduction in poverty incidence. Bababa, hopefully, ang paghihirap by 3.62 percent; reduction in poverty gap by 3.49 percent; reduction in poverty severity by 3.82 percent. Babantayan natin.

Kaya salamat kay Senate President Zubiri at napaunlakan niya ang ating mungkahi na magtatag, hindi lamang ng oversight committee kung saan kasama ang liderato at ang mga mahahalagang Chair ng Komite, kundi na rin ang isang resolusyon na nagpapaloob ng lahat ng hinihingi ng sektor na umaangal. Saan ka nakakita po ng ganoon sa kasaysayan ng Senado, na lahat ng hinihingi ng mga sektor na hindi raw nakonsulta sa nakaraang sampung taon sa negosasyon sa tatlong administrasyon o dalawang nakaraang administrasyon ay isinama po natin sa almost 15-page concurring resolution?

Another study said that there will be a 10.47 increase in exports and 2.02 increase nga in real GDP.

You know, this agreement is so complicated. It has 510 pages. Honestly, I endeavored--I tried to read all, but I could not read all the annexes of 14,000 pages, the language on international trade. I know the media asked me when I arrived, baka daw--joking ha--dudugo ang ilong nila sa pag-recitation. Hindi ko po kayo tatanungin sa 14,000 annexes. Puwede ninyong tanungin si Asec Gepty. But levity aside, that's how complicated it is, but we tried to simplify it by citing the benefits.

It is true that agriculture in the Philippines has suffered for decades. Tanggap namin iyan. Farmer ito eh, si Senate President. At saka doon nanggagaling ang pineapple and many products. Ako naman ay weekend farmer ng gulay, so alam natin kung gaanong kahirap ito. So, alam natin na maraming dapat gawin because of decades of neglect, mismanagement, and even corruption.

So, government must set up safety nets and budgets to make us competitive. But the trade deficits have remained, and the agriculture sector remained stagnant. So, we cannot allow those who produce our food on our table to be neglected and have no food. So, it is their sentiment that they carry on their objections to RCEP, and that is also the reason why we included the recommendations in our resolution, which I hope, by now, we have given you a copy.

So, the tariff line, as the Senate President mentioned, are 15 products--one-five. There are 33 agricultural tariff lines and 15 products. ...na po natin, siniyasat natin, in-assure tayo ng DTI at DA na iyong sensitibong mga produkto na kinatatakutan ng ating mga magsasaka, mangingisda, MSMEs--bakit po naman tayo papayag po na maaapektuhan sa masamang paraan ang MSMEs? Tayo po ang nag-author niyan noong 2007. So, we will not allow that to happen.

So, I have a very long 10-page opening statement. I would just give you a copy so you can see the passion we put into this. But what is important is that we know the benefits of RCEP. And just maybe an example of a foreign trade agreement that you will recall was very recent. You were all covering the Senate on my last term--on the third term, where we sponsored the FTA with the non-EU countries, namely: Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. At the time that we sponsored it with a unanimous concurrence of senators, there was a trade deficit between the four FTA, non-EU countries and the Philippines.

Ang ibig sabihin ng trade deficit ay iyong balance of trade ay hindi pabor sa atin. Pero noong tinanong ko sa briefing bago tanggapin iyong mungkahi na ako ay mag-head ng subcommittee, sinabi sa akin ng DTI, in less than four years, even considering the three-year pandemic, the balance of trade turned in favor of the Philippines, especially, because Switzerland, one of the four FTA countries, continues to import electric fans and vacuum cleaners from the Philippines made in Laguna on the Dyson brand, which is a UK brand which located in the Philippines

So, how micromanage ba o paano ang magandang example ng isang trade agreement na kabenepisyo sa ating manufacturing sector? And so if a small FTA, like EFTA, during pandemic had favorably balanced the trade in our favor, what more the biggest trade deal in the world?

So, I hope that EFTA is a good example and the biggest trade deal will go the same way. But we cannot do it alone. The DTI has to do its work. When they say--when the oppositors say that it will affect the trade deficit, alam ninyo, panahon namin, tumanda na kami sa paglilingkod, the trade deficit has always been there. The trade deficit has been there since the '70s, right? It has been creeping in '60s and '70s. So, we cannot say that it is RCEP which will cause the trade deficit or previous trade agreements. Dapat gumalaw nang maliksi ang DA at ang DTI at lahat ng ahensiya ng gobyerno.

Ang ASEAN po, nagratipika na lahat. Imagine, kung hindi po sumali ang Pilipinas? Tayo lang po--kagaya ng sinabi ni Senate President, we cannot be isolationist--ang hindi magpapababa ng taripa pagpasok ng ating mga produkto sa mga bansa na hindi ASEAN, pero kasama sa RCEP, gaya ng bansang Hapon.

I made it an example and I will say it again. Iyong mga nagtatanim ng cacao sa Pilipinas na gustong mag-export ng tsokolate--at marami niyan sa Mindanao, masasarap na Philippine chocolates, I think it is an emerging industry--pagpasok sa Japan, pinapatawan ng, ilan--ilang porsiyentong taripa pagpasok sa Japan ng chocolate?--23.8, almost 24 percent. But neighboring country, Indonesia, which ratified RCEP, dahil nagratipika, ibababa ng bansang Hapon sa Indonesia sa kanilang tsokolate galing sa cacao farmers dahil sila ay RCEP. Ano ang bibilhin ng mga hapon? Iyong 24 percent cheaper tsokolate from Indonesia or iyong mas mahal na tsokolateng galing Pilipinas?

Again, I am simplifying by setting examples of how our non-ratification of RCEP would have impacted on just one small sector. Of course, that is not all there is to it.

And so, having said that, we are justifying and giving you the rationale why the Senate concurred by a majority, big majority vote of 20 votes. And this started, not in this administration--2012. Noong 2012, nagdesisyon ang mga ASEAN ministers at mga pamahalaan na pumasok sa RCEP. Sampung taon nagnegosasyon at ang chief negotiator ang siyang naging briefer, nag-brief sa amin ni Senate President noon. At sampung taon niyang pinaghirapan at talagang tinanggal iyong mga sensitibong produkto. Nilagdaan iyan ng Pangulong Duterte administration after many years of the Aquino administration negotiations. Hindi naipasa dahil sa kakulangan sa panahon at maraming katanungan, para bigyan naman ng pansin ang mga nag-o-oppose. Dininggin ko po. Una, kinalap ko lahat ng materyales mula kay Senator Pimentel at Senator Marcos at binasa ko at ng tanggapan ko at lahat ng staff, ang gagaling, ni OSP ay tumulong sa akin.

Salamat sa kanyang magagaling ng mga abogado rin na staff.

And so, in two weeks, halos wala kaming tulog, nagbabasa. From two former senators who chaired it and from the DTI and DA--information overload nga. And then, we finished it in record time in two weeks. Hindi po natin minadali dahil sampung taon na nga--no, 11 years. since 2012, and negotiations were very detailed.

Hindi pa rin kami kontento diyan kaya nga naglagay po ng resolution. And this resolution is a manifestation of the opposition of sectors. It is also a guideline and recommendation for the agencies of government to comply. We are happy that the Ways and Means chair and the chair of Finance will be a member so that even in the crafting of the NEP of every agency--please, Sec Pascual, and whoever in charge of doing the NEP of DA--must take into consideration the protection, safety nets, and support we need to give our MSMEs and our agriculture sector.

Having said that, I am grateful to the media for helping the Senate explain to the Filipino people that we are with you in this together.

Thank you.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. [Off-mike] Thank you.

THE MODERATOR. Thank you, Senate Pro Tempore Legarda.

And now, I would like to give the floor to DTI Secretary, Alfredo Pascual.

MR. PASCUAL. Thank you.

Let me greet, of course, our Senate President Migz Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda. Colleagues from DTI, members of the media, good morning to all.

In my business meetings during presidential visits to our partner countries, I had invariably been asked by prospective foreign investors as to when the Philippines would ratify RCEP. Several of these investors were looking at the Philippines as a production hub from which they will export to other countries around us, particularly to countries that were already members of RCEP. As you know, DTI is the government department mandated to facilitate trade industry and investments in our country. Thus, as DTI secretary, I have taken the responsibility to strongly push for RCEP's ratification in the executive branch.

Happily, in a cabinet meeting last October 2022, a decision was reached to formerly request the Senate's concurrence with the ratification of RCEP. Fast forward, we are here now. We got the Senate's ratification last Tuesday and we are now discussing with you our way forward.

Let me thank, again, Senate President Migz Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda for carrying on with the Senate's ratification of RCEP. Given the challenges and issues we have faced, we also commend their leadership in explaining RCEP to the Senate and in shepherding its ratification.

On DTI's part, of course, our chief negotiator, Asec Allan Gepty, provided technical support and inputs in the Senate RCEP's deliberation.

Last Tuesday, the favorable action by the Senate was a clear demonstration of the value of close collaboration and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of the government in expediting action which are important in boosting the country's economic development and growth.

We take note of the innovative approach adopted by the RCEP sponsors in the Senate. The idea of creating an oversight committee to monitor the implementation of RCEP, which is a very much welcome move. We welcome this development and see it as a signal to further intensify our efforts to support and assist our many local stakeholders, particularly, as mentioned, the agricultural sector and the MSMEs.

We are also thankful to those groups and sectors who submitted opposing views on RCEP as they gave us a good understanding of issues that have to be addressed. We will continue to engage with them and work towards the betterment of our country.

The concurrence of the Senate on this important trade deal comes at a time when our President has been diligently promoting the country as a prime investment destination in the region. He supports our message that the Philippines is open for business and that we are able to provide a conducive and enabling environment for investments.

RCEP is also critical in attracting more investments in the country, investments that will spur our country's industrialization which in turn will create more sustainable and high-paying jobs for our people. RCEP is aligned with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s directive to bring in more investments into the country to further spur economic growth to generate the jobs that I referred to earlier and bring shared prosperity to all.

At the regional front, RCEP aims at maintaining ASEAN centrality within the broader region. It is not just a simple trade agreement providing enhanced market access and a stable regulatory framework. RCEP is a strategic tool in ensuring the region's continued economic advantage globally and will help maintain a balance of power within the region. On this note, the Philippines must make its mark in the region where we are a part of.

Let me just highlight some benefits to add to what we've heard already of what the RCEP agreement will bring about.

RCEP promotes economic efficiency of member states including the Philippines. So, with the competition to be brought about by RCEP, we are looking forward, and with our support in making our companies in the Philippines more productive and more competitive.

RCEP strengthens linkages in sectors such as manufacturing technology on agriculture. This is in line with our industrialization strategy which is to integrate investment trade and industry.

RCEP reinforces MSMEs participation in the global value chain network. Through improved market access for goods and services, as well as stable and predictable rules, RCEP provides a platform to encourage more investment in the country.

RCEP provides a framework of rules and disciplines to ensure regulatory consistency, create a conducive environment that is key to ensuring the confidence of the business sector and investors, and spur further economic growth.

Note, however, that these advantages that we have been referring to are anchored on how we utilize the RCEP agreement on how we get our companies in the Philippines make full use of the advantages offered by RCEP.

As we move forward, the Department will have to work closely with other agencies in the government such as the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Customs, National Economic Development Authority, the Department of Finance, and, of course, our private sector partners as has already been pointed out by Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda.

On this endeavor, we call on the support of media and help us in furthering our advocacy for the development of our country.

Thank you.

THE MODERATOR. So, thank you, Secretary Pascual. And, again, thank you to Senate President Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Legarda for your messages.

Indeed, the RCEP presents an important opportunity for our businesses due to the improved regional trade rules and more resilient supply chain connectivity. It similarly provides benefits to Philippine consumers as they stand to gain from a lower cost and access to a wider array of goods and services.

We hope this forum will serve as a platform for participants to have a clear understanding of what RCEP is and what it can provide.

So, now, we go to the open forum.

I would just like to request for anybody who would like to ask any questions, to approach any of the two microphones and state your name and the company you represent.

Yes, please.

MS. BUENO. Cely Bueno from DWIZ.

After the ratification of RCEP, when can we expect to feel and enjoy benefits of joining the RCEP?

MR. PASCUAL. I will just talk about the technicalities between the time the ratification was made and the time we submit our instrument of ratification to the ASEAN secretariat, we will have to do the necessary paperwork. So, that will take about 30 days. Then, after the date of lodgment of our certificate or instrument of ratification, we will count 60 days before the effectivity of our membership in RCEP. So, from then, it is already open for full use of our investors, of our companies, so that they can take advantage of the provisions of RCEP.

MS. BUENO. Sir, since were in the period of recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, so iyong pag-join natin sa RCEP mas mapapabilis po ba iyong economic recovery?

MR. PASCUAL. Surely, mapapabilis. Because the way to recover is to stimulate investment in our country, so new businesses can be established and new businesses will create the jobs that were lost during the pandemic. And also, strengthen--create the possibility of strengthening our MSMEs that will act as suppliers, you know, to the bigger businesses to be established here.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Just to add, Ate Cely. Nakita naman natin iyong experience ng Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, immediately after they entered the partnership, talagang gumanda ang kanilang export industry. So, depende din sa ating mga exporters iyan at manufacturers. Kailangan mabilis din sila gumalaw to take advantage of this partnership agreement.

But, for example, ang sinabi ni Secretary, iyong foreign direct investment alone, pag hindi po tayo sumali sa RCEP, hindi po tayo papansinin. Kasi kung may Amerikanong grupo na gustong pumunta dito, may taga-Europe na gustong pumunta dito para mag set up ng isang factory para mag-export ng mga gamit sa ASEAN and these other free trade areas like South Korea, China, New Zealand, Japan, and Australia, siyempre, doon sila sa bansa na kasama sa RCEP.

I will give you an example. I brought to the office last week iyong grupo and we recognized them in the plenary, as a matter of fact, we had lunch with them. Si Phil Aldridge of EVT Vehicles, electric vehicles. The biggest American producer of electric vehicles in the United States for public utilities, iyong mga para sa school bus, para sa mga truckers, they are looking at relocating to the Philippines.

Pero tinawagan nga niya ako last week, after he left and asked are we part of RCEP. Because if we are part of RCEP, it makes it easier for him na makabenta po sa 15 countries or 14 countries at that time. And I said to him, "I guarantee you, by next week, we will be able to ratify it." So, na-excite po siya. He is coming back in three weeks' time with a bigger delegation to close the deal sa Clark. Galing po siya ng Clark. So, ibig sabihin, magkakaroon talaga tayo ng mas maraming foreign direct investments. That is the--how do you say it--that is the immediate effect. That is the consequence of our ratification. Magkakaroon talaga ng mas maraming locators, pupunta dito, who should bring in jobs. Which will have a domino effect kasi, siyempre, iyong EVT, iyong grupo nila is the biggest manufacturer of electric vehicles. They are also looking at now, manufacturing the batteries in the Philippines kasi iyong kinukunan nila ng battery is Taiwan. So, they said to be able to avail of RCEP, they asked the Taiwanese partners to move to Clark to build now the batteries in Clark and get these raw materials from the Filipinos. Kasi iyong nickel and the chromite, and mga nickel ore na dinadala pa sa China o sa Taiwan para gawin ang battery doon, dito na nila gagawin. So, it opens up a whole new level of trade and commerce in the Philippines.

Kaya ako, excited na excited. Kasi kung hindi po tayo sumali diyan, hindi tayo papansinin. He was going to move to Johor, Malaysia. Ilalagay daw niya dapat iyong head office niya sa Singapore, manufactured in Johor, which is one hour away from Singapore, and then ship all over this region. Eh ngayon na napasok tayo sa RCEP, they have committed to put up the plant here in Central Luzon. Kaya ang ganda, ang ganda ng benefits.

Thank you.

MS. BUENO. Last na lang.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Opo.

MR. PASCUAL. Puwede ba akong magbigay ng isa pang example on a smaller scale? Halimbawa, iyong garments making natin, hindi ba, nawala, nawawala na sa Pilipinas iyon. Nawawala iyon kasi nga wala tayong textile mills who supply the fabrics needed. At pag mag-e-export ka sa Japan, kailangan mo 40 percent local content to avail of iyong benefits ng tariff reduction, hindi natin ma-meet iyon.

Now, with RCEP, we can buy the raw materials from China, for example, do the garments making work here. Kahit na ang domestic content less than 40 percent, we can export to Japan, to South Korea, and avail of the preferential tariff, and we will be competitive.

So, hopefully, pwede nating ma-revive iyong mga industries na nawala dati because wala tayong full supply ng raw materials.

SEN. LEGARDA. I would like to give one quotation from the Asian Development Bank, and I quote, "The signing of the RCEP among 15 members provides a crucial momentum to redouble their strong commitment to pursuing free trade and expanding open and inclusive trade and investment regimes to enhance economic recovery beyond the COVID-19 pandemic."

So, maganda po ang timing na sa pag-ahon natin mula sa pandemya ay mayroon tayong bagong merkado ng ating mga produkto na sana sa pagpasok sa mga bansang iyon ay magbigay ng pagkakataon sa maliliit na negosyante dito pati na rin sa sektor pang-agrikultura, na bumaba ang mga taripa sa pagpasok sa mga ekonomiya ng bansang Hapon, Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand.

At kung hindi tayo pumasok, paano na lang ang ating competition sa ibang ASEAN countries kung ang pagpasok ng produkto nila sa malalaking RCEP economies ay ibaba ang taripa sa mga bansang malalaki at tayo, mataas pa rin dahil hindi tayo kasali sa trade deal?

Thank you.

MS. BUENO. Ma'am, last na lang.

Are we ready na ba? Iyong mga iba't ibang sector, ready na ba na makipag-compete? Alam na ba nila kung paano nila ia-avail itong benefits ng pag-join natin sa RCEP? Kasi, ang impression nga parang minadali. In one week's time--

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Actually, ngayong umaga lang, nabasa ko sa Manila Bulletin at sa Manila Times, iyong statement ni Joey Concepcion ng Go Negosyo, "The MSMEs are going to hit the ground running." Handa sila, excited sila. Nagpapasalamat sa Senado sa pagratipika. I think we are more than ready kasi kung sluggish tayo ay walang mangyayari sa ating ekonomiya. They have to take this opportunity na--jump into the bandwagon, jump into the momentum, and let's do trade.

So, I think the next best thing for the DTI to do is come up with trades shows, of course, market our goods now to the different countries; iyong road show with the businessmen, umpisahan na natin iyan para, at least, maumpisahan na rin ang trade of goods and services to these countries.

MR. PASCUAL. Mayroon tayong malaking event na darating sa March 3, SP. We have invited the diplomatic corps--SITEM ang nag-o-organize nito. And this will already communicate the fact, you know, that we are ready, and we have the businesses that will make full use of the benefits of RCEP.

Isa pang dapat nating tingnan, for the past couple of years, there have been economic reforms or regulatory reforms that had been done. We amended the Public Service Act; we amended the Foreign Retail Liberalization Act; we amended the Retail Act and Foreign Investment Act, and we passed the CREATE law. These were all meant to attract foreign investments. And then, we amended the IRR of the Renewable Energy Act to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of renewables like wind, solar and tidal.

Kapag hindi tayo sumali sa RCEP, parang it is a reversal of what we wanted the world to see, you know--that we are open for business. We have done everything that is needed to attract them and then, magiging--run counter our signal if we are not able to get RCEP ratification, like what we did last Tuesday. It will nullify all the things we have said, you know, that we are open for business and that we have prepared the ground work; we have amended a number of laws; we have harmonized the incentives available to investors. Tapos, bigla, hindi pala tayo sasama sa RCEP. Parang mababalewala lahat noong mga preparatory work na nangyari during the past couple of years.

SEN. LEGARDA. Gusto ko rin banggitin kung bakit ko tinanggap ang assignment na ito mula kay Senate President Zubiri, at kung bakit ako sumang-ayon, dahil ito lang, ang tingin ko, ang free trade agreement na nagre-reaffirm. Binibigyan ng halaga ng mga parties iyong karapatan nila at kanilang obligasyon sa convention on biodiversity. It is Article--is it 17 point 10 (17.10).

Kung titingnan ninyo--maybe I can send you that, nagbibigay ng halaga, ha, sa convention on biodiversity. This convention na, ano na iyan, existing--yes, but it gives importance. So, it even specifies it. So, that helps.

THE MODERATOR. So, thank you.

And now, may we recognize Paolo Romero of the Philippine Star.

MR. ROMERO. For Secretary Pascual, and for Senate President Zubiri, and for Senator Loren, ma'am, if you want to comment.

You have a long list--the Senate passed a resolution yata--it is a long to-do list, and for Secretary Pascual, how soon can you actually implement this--at least, the one in your shop, as listed by the Senate?

And then, ma'am and Senator Zubiri, is there already existing budgets--I mean, the budget for 2023 has already been approved, but there is enough fund for this, at least for a couple of years, to implement what you have listed in these long guidelines.

Thank you, ma'am.

MR. PASCUAL. Iyong mga nire-require sa amin dito, sa DTI, ginagawa lang namin iyon. Of course, i-intensify pa with further support. Sa budget ngayon, mayroon na kaming funding for--ito, formulation of exports and investment program. Tinutulungan na namin iyong mga exporters, i-intensify lang natin ito, okay?

I cannot speak for the Department of Agriculture na may mga requirements din sa kanila na ini-expect na mangyayari or gagawin under this Senate Resolution. Kami, sa DTI, ginagawa na namin. Ang question lang, kapag nakakuha kami--kapag madadagdagan iyong budget namin, say, in 2024, we will further intensify all these efforts to support export and investment development, industry development, MSME development--iyan ang mga ginagawa namin; consumer protection, kasama rin iyan. Making sure that iyong mga products that will come from these--kasi, iyong mga investors na iyan, tatatargetin (target) nila iyong domestic market. So, babantayan din natin whether they are observing quality standards for products that are being sold to the domestic market.

MR. ROMERO. Senator Zubiri, ma'am, there is a budget already for this, ma'am?

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Yes.

Let me just read, for the record. Ito iyong pinasa ko kanina kay Secretary kasi. The secretary naman has not memorized the budgets of all these programs of theirs. But iyong Export Investments Development Program, we have 773 million for this year; Industry Development Program, we have ₱529 million for this year; iyong MSME Development Program, we have ₱736 million; the Consumer Protection Program with ₱443 million; the Consumer Education Advocacy Program of ₱82 million. They have locally funded projects, as well as iyong OTOP program; Go Negosyo Centers/Establishments is about half a billion. But it is not enough.

We have agreed, together with Senator Angara and Senator Loren Legarda, dagdagan namin iyong pondo nila sa shared service facilities. Kaunti lang po iyong nailagay doon. And we are going to make sure that in 2024, we guarantee it, secretary, that we will be doubling or even tripling the funds for the shared service facilities. Ito po iyong program ng DTI which gives mga equipment--modernizing equipment of cooperatives, farmers' groups, iyong mga MSMEs.

For example, they want to come up with the coffee production--iyong coffee, from beans, to coffee powder. They have a machine that can avail of that for the shared service facilities. For example, from cassava chips to actual--parang cassava powder. They also give those machines out.

So, kaya napakahalaga nitong Shared Service Facilities Program. They also have iyong napakagandang bangko nila, which is the SB Corp, Small Business Corporation. Iyan iyong sagot sa five-six, para hindi na po kailangang mag-five-six sila. So, dadagdagan din namin ang pondo niyan para mabuhay po itong MSMEs, and we can now start making them globally competitive. 'Ika nga, kung ngayon, nagbebenta lang sila sa Malabon, nagbebenta lang sila sa Navotas ng mga isda na produkto, with this new Shared Service Facilities and the training that is being given by the DTI, they can now package it well, vacuum-packaged, or packaged really well, and export na to Thailand, to Malaysia, to Indonesia. So, it is exciting time. Sabi nga namin ni Secretary, these are exciting times.

SEN. LEGARDA. Thank you.

I am a firm believer. And some of the programs of the DTI--in fact, in my previous term, when I was Chair of the Finance Committee, I saw that the DTI shared services facilities' budget was 50 million. The DTI who were there in the previous term know that we increased it, the Senate, to one billion. And, I think, it should be much more than that.

As Senate President mentioned, the shared services facilities are targeted to local communities that have existing businesses but need assistance in terms of equipment and tools. And this is everywhere.

And you will recall that before 2007, it was small and medium enterprises. But the Congress, at that time--and we authored the MSME Law--to include the microenterprises. I am sure in Bukidnon, all of those are benefiting. And ang daming pangangailangan.

An example: I was so happy during the pandemic that there was a group of women in Quezon City that had been a recipient of the DTI shared services facilities na sewing machines. I saw it on social media when I was on Zoom in lockdown, in a small NGO, by a lady named Maica Teves(?) said, "Senator, ito po iyong batas ninyo. Ito po iyong hiningi ng kababaihan. Nagbago na po ang tinatahi nila. Ngayon, PPE." So, noong nabuhay sila, iyong maliit na kababaihan na grupong iyon sa Quezon City noong panahon ng pandemya na nag-innovate, gumawa ng PPE. Isa lang iyan sa SSF. Sa Antique, ito po ang ginawa kong tulay para pag-ahon mula sa pandemya, mula sa brick-making facility, hanggang sa pottery making, hanggang sa mga chips, iba-iba.

Ngayon, sasabihin ko lang iyong totoo sa SSF. Kailangan ang DTI, inaaral pati ang equipment. Kasi minsan, ayaw noong komunidad. Baka hindi sapat ang konsultasyon ay nabibigay iyong equipment, tengga lang, or sayang. Pati iyong quality ng pag-procure noong equipment, baka hindi magandang klase.

So, hindi ito magic pill, itong RCEP. Hindi rin magic pill iyong mga program ng gobyerno, bagama't magandang tingnan sa computer, magandang sabihin ng senador, sa pag-implement sa baba. Dahil kami ay mga naging congressman, alam namin iyong lokal, maraming pagkakamali at maraming dapat ituwid. Hindi lang ang DTI, pati ang DA, lalo na, at may iba pang ahensiya ng gobyerno. Gaya ng DOST, science and technology, mayroon silang community empowerment through science and technology. So, we are not limiting it to these two agencies of government--all agencies, especially, those who are part of the Innovation Council.

Remember, there is a 2019 law--patapos na iyong termino noon, tapos nagkaroon ng pandemic--iyong Innovation Act, iyong pag-implement ng Innovation Act na kinonvene (convene) ni President Marcos noong isang araw. First time na kinonvene ng isang Pangulo ang Innovation Council mula noong 2019 noong naipasa ng Senado iyong ating batas na iyon. And for your information, that law is an output of the 2015 APEC meeting in the Philippines.

I had a staff. She is now a commissioner of a government agency. I said, "Can you get the output of all of these APEC countries so that we go ahead with innovation?" It was an originally drafted bill by the Senate; it became a law, 2019. It was Senator Sherwin who sponsored it; the Majority Leader was SP. Now, fast forward, the Innovation Act could be at the center of RCEP implementation. So, we mainstream innovation and research on development in every agency of government.

MR. ROMERO. Ma'am, last question. How soon and how often will you convene the oversight committee?

Thank you, ma'am.

SEN. LEGARDA. Baka magsawa kayo sa mga hearing. Makulit ako.

How soon? It has been created. I can call for a hearing, perhaps, week after next. We will talk about it with the majority. You know, tinalaga lang ako na Chair, but I have members also. And I have to consult the Senate leadership. But I am sure that you would want it to be as often as possible. And we will not make it Manila centric. No. We discussed it. We will do regional consultations with the stakeholders who are still anxious. Angry, anxious, opposing, we will listen to all of you. You teach us because you know it best. We will listen to you. Kaya natutuwa ako na mayroon tayong--you know, our ears will be on the ground. So, in the next few, not months, years, we will listen, and that will be inputted in the budgetary process.

THE MODERATOR. Thank you.

We now call on Mr. Wilnard Bacelonia of the PNA.

MR. BACELONIA. To Sec Pascual.

Sec, you recently met with the EU Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights. And I think you brought up the PH-EU FTA and GSP Plus renewal. Now, my question is, what are your objectives in pushing to resume the Philippines-EU FTA talks?

MR. PASCUAL. Right now, our preferential tariff comes from the GSP Plus. And that the coverage will expire by the end of this year. So, we have been working. I have gone to Brussels to campaign for the renewal of the coverage of the Philippines under GSP Plus.

Now, GSP Plus is available only for low-income countries. But, as you very well know, the Philippines with the rate at which we are growing now, we hope and we expect to become an upper middle-income country soon. And if we are able to achieve that, we will no longer be eligible for GSP Plus coverage. Of course, there is a transition of three years. During that time, we hope to be able to negotiate a free trade agreement between the Philippines and EU, so that we can have a more stable and more permanent platform to govern our trade and investment relations with the EU.

MR. BACELONIA. And then, now that you have already have RCEP ratified, and then, what would you think the ... for the Philippines if, all together, you would also be able to achieve these objectives with the PH-EU FTA talks, then it would also be renewed, the GSP Plus. Maybe you can just give us a picture.

MR. PASCUAL. Yes. Are you asking whether RCEP will affect the GSP Plus coverage?

MR. BACELONIA. Yes, yes.

MR. PASCUAL. No.

MR. BACELONIA. Or is there any connection?

MR. PASCUAL. They are separate. But with RCEP, we might be able to accelerate our becoming an upper middle-income country, because industry will grow; there will be more investments here. And the moment that happens, we really need to go for a free trade agreement with the EU. Otherwise, some of those companies or industries that thrive on the basis of the preferential tariff and joined under GSP Plus will be disadvantaged.

MR. BACELONIA. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR. Next, Ms. Sherry Anne Torres of ABS-CBN, please.

MS. TORRES. Hi, sirs and ma'am. Good morning.

To Secretary Pascual and also to our senators. Sir, may we ask, during the first year of the observance or implementation of RCEP with us, the Philippines included in the program, what specific industries are we expecting to initially attract? And how many, at least?

MR. PASCUAL. Iyong industries that will export nga, like I explained before, iyong specific industries, what comes to mind, iyong new lower tariff will be made available to certain agricultural products so far. I think iyong canned tuna--yes. Canned tuna will gain reduction in tariff in Japan and other member countries. So, that industry will benefit right away from RCEP. That is just an example. We have a list which we can provide you. Asec Allan Gepty can do that.

But in my notes here, I can see that RCEP represents a number of sectors. In the Philippines, 50 percent of our manufacturing output could benefit, you know, from RCEP. Our electronic products, 70 percent of electronic products represented by RCEP region.

There are very specific--we have listed this down and we can provide a list of these products that will immediately benefit from the tariff reduction brought about by RCEP.

Asec Allan, can you rattle off some of the other specific products?

MR. GEPTY. Thank you, sir, for giving the floor.

So, for this RCEP agreement, in addition doon sa mga existing FTAs natin, we were able to secure enhanced market access for certain products of interest of the country.

So, for example, in the case of China, were able to secure enhanced market access for preserved pineapples, pineapple juice, coconut juice, diesel oil, printed paper, ignition wiring set, flexographic plate. Marami ito. We can, of course, give you the list.

Sa Japan, maybe products of interest for the Philippines would be fish fillet, kasama rito iyong tilapia, cooked pineapple, coffee, canned salmon, oyster, mussels, chocolate, even ginger bread, leather gloves--we are very strong on leather products here--and also footwear.

Sa South Korea, dried salted tilapia, papaya, of course, durian, canned tuna, preserved pineapple, cement, even our alcoholic beverages. So, iyong mga beer, gin, rum natin will definitely benefit with this enhanced market access. Of course, bicycle garments, among others.

So, marami po siya. Pero kung immediate impact agad nito, pag nag-take effect iyong RCEP, ang pinakamahalagang bagay diyan, iyong tinatawag nating wider resourcing of raw materials. Kasi iyong ating mga manufacturers, producers, immediately, they can source these raw materials and intermediate goods from these 14 countries and the product that they manufacture will enjoy preferential market access to these RCEP parties.

MS. TORRES. And, Asec, may I just do a follow-up. That is also part of the would-be-benefits of MSMEs that the secretary and our senators have been mentioning earlier.

MR. GEPTY. Yes. Because as far as micro, small, and medium enterprises, there are many ways by which they can integrate into the global value chain. Number one, puwede silang mag-export directly to the country concerned, kung saan iyong may market. Pangalawa is that they can also supply to those big companies who are integrated into the global value chain. And then, number three is that they can also partner with other investors who are willing to venture in their particular business.

MS. TORRES. Thank you, sir.

SP, SP Pro Temp, may I be allowed to ask a question that is not related to this activity?

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. [Off-mike] Yes, of course.

SEN. LEGARDA. As long as it will contribute to the real GDP of the Philippines. [Laughter] It will generate employment.

MS. TORRES. [Laughter] Yes, ma'am. Just one question from my end. Because today--this week actually, we are celebrating, we are commemorating the EDSA People Power Revolution anniversary. And as far as I can recall, you started your political careers after the 1986 revolt.

So, as a public servant, as Filipinos, may we just ask, what have you learned so far, or what have you gained so far as far as the EDSA People Power Revolt is concerned, and how are you going to mark this occasion, sir?

Thank you.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Maybe we can ask our Senate President Pro Tempore?

SEN. LEGARDA. I was a journalist in America at that time. Because I left during Martial Law and EDSA People Power happened while I was working as a young journalist. I am only a few years older than you. Akala mo.

Yes, I was working in Los Angeles when it happened. Yes. But there are always lessons of EDSA. First, we value our democracy. We value our free speech. We value our diversity, and still find unity in our diverse opinions and in our diversity.

But first of all, we value our freedom. We value our democracy. We value what we have fought for in different milestones in our history as a nation and as a people. And we appreciate that the President has declared a holiday today. But as you see, your working Senate and your working DTI are here with you working.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. [Off-mike] And the media.

SEN. LEGARDA. And the media. That is why--since you asked that question, may I ask the media, what do you think RCEP can do for you? Kayo naman ang tanungin namin?

MS. TORRES. Ma'am, before that--

SEN. LEGARDA. Maybe you can submit to us--how do you think RCEP will impact on your lives, on small businesses, and improve the state of affairs in our country in the post-pandemic recovery? Iyan. I would like--maybe Cely can collect one-liners or one-pagers from our media today. And maybe you can submit to us, what does EDSA mean to you? Because it means different things to different people of different generations. To me, it means giving value to our democracy and our freedom. Right?

Okay, now we go to free trade.

MS. TORRES. No, ma'am. Before our submission, can we ask the thoughts of SP Zubiri on the same question?

Thank you, sir.

Thank you, ma'am.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Well, I was a 16-year-old boy in high school. And it was--of course, we were not as politically astute as we are now. Nakita po natin ang samahan ng taong-bayan na pumunta sa ESDA para sa isang malaking pagsama-sama. And all I could remember were the thoughts of my father and mother at that time. And, of course, these are different milestones. There was EDSA 1; there was EDSA 2. And many other milestones, as mentioned by our dear Senate President Pro Tempore.

So, what is important is, remember history and that history doesn't repeat itself, which is to make sure that along the way, we use the laws that we have done in the last three decades, maybe four decades, to further enhance growth for our people. I think what is important here is learning the lessons of the past, whatever political color you may be. Kasi I know whatever I say, you will put a political spin to it kaya I am very careful. I promise myself today, I will not speak off the cuff.

And because I know magkakaroon ng spin kaya ang akin diyan is, what is important is the future. Ako, I am future thinking. Ika nga sa--ano iyong committee ni Senator Pia? Futures thinking. So right now, I am futures thinking. How can we make use of all our historical knowledge that we have gone through from every decade on how to make our country a stronger nation? Iyan ang mahalaga. And that is why we passed RCEP because we felt that this is the key.

We are prepositioned in Asia, hindi ba? We have ports in every major island groups. We can send goods to all over the region. Unlike landlocked countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, dehado sila. Tayo, we have ports in every--Cagayan de Oro, we can ship out to New Zealand, to Korea. And Northern Luzon can also ship out to China. Walang problema iyan. Iyan ang pag-usapan natin. Let's do it forward thinking and futures thinking rather than being divisive. I don't like to talk about divisive issues and I really feel that we should move forward, look forward with no politics. Set aside politics, get-together, unite with one another, and work for the benefit of our people, especially the 16 percent who continue to still be in poverty.

Thank you, sir.

MS. TORRES. Thank you, sir. Thank you, ma'am.

THE MODERATOR. Thank you.

We have five more who would like to ask questions. So, we would like to request that we confine it to RCEP and one question and probably, just one follow-up, please.

Mr. Marlon Ramos of the Philippine Daily Inquirer?

MR. RAMOS. Good morning po.

Kay SP at saka kay Pro Temp. Since the two of you shepherded the Senate concurrence of RCEP, if the opposite happens, SP, will you also be willing to initiate the move to withdraw from the agreement? Kung sakali lang?

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Actually, we have a line, the last two lines of the resolution--bigyan na namin sa inyo iyong resolution, we have copies. "Resolved furthermore that the Senate of the Philippines may recommend to the President the withdrawal from the agreement." Naisama namin. And the last line, "Resolved further that the President of the Philippines may, with the concurrence of the Senate, withdraw from the agreement." So, mayroon tayong--so, guaranteed. Kung mukhang dehado tayo and there is an influx of goods from all over that swamp our manufacturing, swamp our garments, swamp our agriculture, then definitely, a review will be in place. Will be in place and will be in order. And that we can recommend to the President, if need be.

MR. RAMOS. And both of you are willing to initiate those action, if it happens?

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. I guess any member--yes, all of us. I mean, even it says here, "The President may," "and the Senate may," so each and every Senator has the opportunity to make that review.

But let's look forward. Why are we looking at worst? Let's look at the best. Palagi tayong the worst. We look at the best that may come, hindi ba? Let's not look at the worst. But it is there, the safeguard is there.

Thank you, Marlon.

SEN. LEGARDA. First, yes, there is a provision. But even we go to as far as that provision, there are safeguard measures already in the agreement. There are trade remedies, available trade remedies.

Should there be a surge, let's say, in imports or unfair trade practices in the implementation of the RCEP agreement, there are trade remedies not just in RCEP, even in WTO agreement, such as safeguard measures, general safeguards, special safeguards, anti-dumping, countervailing duties. These are all available--WTO pa iyan. And... whatever we entered into previous to RCEP, its trace, nandiyan. So, there is also an RCEP safeguard measure. It must be ... that RCEP safeguard measures is under Article 7.2, that is an additional trade remedy available to all RCEP parties. And the fact remains that in the RCEP agreement, it should all safeguard the rights of all parties.

So, kung ano iyong pinasukan natin matagal na sa WTO, nandiyan pa rin diyan, pero nagdagdag pa ang RCEP ng karagdagang safeguard measures.

At saka, alam ninyo, hindi sapat na pumasok ka ng RCEP, "Ah, baka umasenso na ang buhay ng Pilipino." Hindi po eh. Kung patuloy pa rin ang smuggling, kung mismanaged pa rin ang sector sa agrikultura, kung kulang tayo ng suporta sa magsasaka at mangingisda, kung hindi natin lakihan ang investment sa agrikultura at sa paggamit ng pondo na mahalagang iyan para sa--diretso sa tao, kung ang DTI ay hindi rin gagawin nang husay ang shared services at saka ease of doing business and all of these, then it would not be successful. So, hindi lang iyan. It is not just one FTA that can change the way things are in our country for the good or for the bad, it is a whole of government approach.

MR. RAMOS. Last, follow up lang. How will this new FTA affect iyong proposed ASEAN integration, or is there such a thing po ba, the ASEAN integration?

SEN. LEGARDA. ASEAN?

MR. RAMOS. Integration, ma'am.

SEN. LEGARDA. ASEAN integration. How will it affect ASEAN integration?

MR. RAMOS. ..., sir?

SEN. LEGARDA. Secretary.

MR. PASCUAL. Well, we are already--we have achieved ASEAN integration through our ASEAN trade in goods agreement. Okay. That is why, you know, for us to join RCEP, we are going to avail of what's there already. But what will happen with RCEP, we will be able to enhance the regional integration, expand it from the current 10 countries to include five more in the region. That is the impact of RCEP on regional integration. We are able to integrate a larger region, as has already been pointed out, a region that accounts for close to 30 percent of population, close to 30 percent of GDP, close to 30 percent of trade.

MR. RAMOS. Thank you.

MR. GEPTY. If I may add, sir, with your permission?

MR. PASCUAL. Sige, please.

MR. GEPTY. Okay. The RCEP agreement is very important in the role of ASEAN here in the region because when it comes to development right now in economic activities in the global scale, the shift is towards Asia. And when you talk about Asia, you cannot afford not to talk about Southeast Asia. So, basically, what we are saying is that, almost all economic activities are happening now here in Asia, and in particular, the RCEP region.

Nabanggit kanina that RCEP region is the largest trading block. But more than GDP, trade and population, I just want to highlight that the RCEP region, basically, accounts to 50 percent of the global manufacturing output. So, you could just imagine, kalahati ng manufacturing activities nandito.

Also, when it comes to automotive products, 50 percent are coming from the RCEP region. And with respect to electronic products, RCEP region accounts to 70 percent. And notably, the RCEP region is the main global value chain hubs of three emerging big economies; China, South Korea, and Japan. In fact, this is the first FTA na nagsama-sama itong tatlo; China, South Korea, and Japan. That is why every economy right now is expecting that production, research and development, and even manufacturer will further intensify here in the region. At iyon ang gusto nating i-capture, na mapasama tayo doon sa pag-increase ng mga investments.

MR. RAMOS. [Off-mike] Thank you, sir.

THE MODERATOR. Thank you.

So, we have Mr. Raymund Dadpaas of DZRH, please.

MR. DADPAAS. Good afternoon. Mag-a-ala una na pala. Anyway, sir, ganito, it is good nabanggit ninyo naman tungkol doon sa--iyong protection noong agriculture products, protected pa rin ng tariff. Pero paano natin--ano ang naging commitment dito--kasi nabanggit din ni Senator Loren na iyong agriculture sector kasi is one of the--ito ang talagang neglected sector. Papaano ito at sila iyong nangangamba ngayon with the approval of the RCEP--binanggit ninyo rin may problema pa rin tayo sa smuggling. So, papaano ito naire-reconcile doon sa--sapat ba iyong sinasabi ninyo na tariff protected sila, then papabor na sa kanila itong RCEP na ito?

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Well, kaya kailangan natin gumalaw bilang gobyerno. Iyong ating executive--dinagdagan namin ng pondo noong DA this year, bigger than last year's budget. And because of that, we put money on the high value crops program, iyong livestock program--ito, babanggitin ko: National High Value Crops Program, 1.8 billion iyong nilagay natin; iyong National Livestock Program para sa swine, poultry, and beef, 4.5 billion; promotion of development of Organic Agriculture Program, 900 million; iyong National Corn Program, five billion; iyong National Rice Program, ito ang pinakamalaki, 30 billion sa National Rice Program.

Yes, so, ang laki. Kaya nasa Department of Agriculture na iyan. Maybe you can ask your BIP(?). May BIP naman kayo sa Department of Agriculture, hindi ba? So, tanungin natin sila. Ano ang gagawin nilang mga hakbang para mapaganda ang agrikultura sa ating bansa? I think the ball is now in their court.

Let's put it this way, right now, pasok tayong RCEP, walang gagalawin sa kanilang taripa. So, in other words, status quo sila, excluded sila. So, walang papasok na napakaraming mga produktong mais, rice, and other products dito sa Pilipinas. Walang flooding, 'ika nga. Kaya dapat, magbantay ang ating Bureau of Customs, kailangang bantayan iyan. But, ang importante diyan is palakasin na natin sila-ang industriya. We cannot be business as usual sa agriculture sector.

Ibig pong sabihin, kung iyong rice farmer ay nagpo-produce lamang po ng 40 cavans per hectare, talagang hindi tayo magiging competitive. Kailangang pumasok talaga iyong DA diyan at sabihing, "Bakit ganoon kababa iyong per hectare mo? Gumamit na ba kayo ng certified seeds? Gumamit na ba kayo ng tamang abono? Mayroon ba kayong mga-ano ito, mekanismo para modernized na, hindi na iyong kalabaw." Mayroon tayong rotavator, mayroon tayong rice-planter, hindi na po kalabaw ang gagamitin, para tumaas po ang ani nila nang 80 cavans per hectare, para sa ganoon ay kumita naman po sila, which is the average in the whole region.

So, they have to step in. They have to help our farmers. Kaya bumuo tayo ng oversight committee para kukulitin namin every quarter itong mga ito. Anong nangyari sa pondo? Baka maging savings na iyon o baka mapunta sa iba.

Kaya, rest assured, to our friends in media, babantayan talaga namin sila--not only agriculture but also, DTI and all the other departments that are tasked to increase our exports and to strengthen our local economy.

Salamat, pare.

MR. DAPDAAS. Salamat po. May question pa ako pero okay na.

MR. PASCUAL. Could I just say something about this, Your Honor?

I had pointed out, I mean, again, that with or without RCEP, those measures that we are going to undertake to help agriculture--the agricultural sector, will have to be done. For example, curbing the smuggling of agricultural products, we need to do that with or without RCEP; helping the farmers achieve high productivity, we need to do that, without RCEP.

I, myself, have had meetings with agricultural group and we all agreed, you know--they understand fully that RCEP will not directly affect agriculture as it is now because of the things we have done. We have not compromised the tariff protection of several agricultural products we produced. But they would like us that this--the RCEP discussion, to be the opportunity for them to be heard about their plea from the--the plea with the government to take measures, to take care of agricultural smuggling, and also, address the productivity programs in our farms.

So, iyon iyong--what is clear. Kaya, at the end of the day, separate iyong ano--ang makikinabang sa RCEP, at least 90 percent of the Philippine economy. Iyong mga nasa industry, MSMEs.

So, mahirap naman--because of the things we still have to do for agriculture, hindi naman talaga maaapektuhan ng RCEP, made-delay iyong ano. Iyon ang palagi ko namang ine-explain. Wala namang reason na kailangan i-delay iyong ratification ng RCEP o not to ratify RCEP at all. Kailangan natin iyan for the bigger part of our economy. And also, for agriculture because we have given examples of agricultural products that will gain market access in Japan, Korea and China because of RCEP.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. Okay. Ma'am Ann, maybe to speed up the process. I have with me the enrolled copy--ito iyong isa-submit namin sa Malacañang, enrolled copy. I will be signing it officially now. This is the process to finish our ratification process in the Senate. This is the last stage. Ito, dadalhin na po natin ito sa Malacañang.

So, I will sign it officially today, with the witnesses: Secretary Pascual; Senator Loren Legarda, Senate President Pro Tempore; and Sir Allan Gepty who was negotiating this for so many years.

SEN. LEGARDA. [Off-mike] He is the happiest, ano.

THE SENATE PRESIDENT. He is the happiest.

Pipirmahan po--Pirmahan ko muna, pirmahan ko muna, as Senate President.

THE MODERATOR. So now, the Senate President is signing the enrolled copy of Senate Resolution No. 42 on the Resolution concurring in the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

After this signing, the Senate will transmit to the executive department and will be part of the instrument of ratification, which will be sent to the ASEAN secretariat.

So, a round of applause for this momentum occasion. [applause]

So, with this, we conclude this press briefing.

On behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Senate, we once again, thank all our speakers; our esteemed senators, Senate President Zubiri; Senate President Pro Tempore Legarda; DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual; DTI Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty, our chief negotiator; and all media who were here this afternoon.

We hope that this engagement has contributed to knowledge building and familiarization of the RCEP agreement following the Senate's concurrence and entry into force for the Philippines.

So, kindly join us for lunch.

Maraming salamat po and see you at our next event.

[THE BRIEFING ENDED AT 1:05 P.M]