THE Senate ratified on Tuesday, February 21, 2023, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement with 14 other nations.

Voting 20 affirmative votes, one negative and one abstention, the Senate concurred with the ratification of RCEP, which was sponsored by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate President Pro-Tempore Loren Legarda.

“RCEP has been a long time coming. Now that we can see how our neighboring countries have reaped the benefits of joining the agreement, I am confident that we have made the right choice by finally concurring on its ratification,” Zubiri said.

“This will put us on equal footing with our neighbors, rules and policies-wise. We will prevent trade diversion, and we will be giving our industries a fair chance at being truly competitive,” he added.

Senator Imee Marcos, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs who refused to lead the hearings on the RCEP amid concern that farmers will be badly affected by the agreement, abstained, while Senator Risa Hontiveros voted against the ratification.

Hontiveros said she is not convinced that joining the RCEP is good and beneficial for the country.

Earlier, farmers and agriculture groups expressed doubt that the government can protect them when imports start flooding the markets due to the reduction of tariff rates.

Zubiri maintained, however, that the implementation of RCEP will go hand in hand with developmental and capacity-building programs of the government especially for the agriculture sector, which is among the top priority of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s administration in a bid to strengthen the country’s food security and sufficiency.

He noted that “sensitive” agricultural products such as rice, sugar, and onions are not covered by the agreement.

He said the RCEP will also aid in the developmental growth of other industries.

Earlier, the President said RCEP will be advantageous for the country as it will increase the trade that it will bring to different member economies, including the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and its five FTA partners including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.

The agreement aims to promote greater openness, create a more business friendly environment, encourage closer integration of economies, and provide a more stable and predictable rules based system of trade. (SunStar Philippines)