MANILA – As the Senate fails to concur on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Philippines will not yet reap the benefits of the free trade agreement (FTA).

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters Thursday he still hopes that the next Congress will approve the country’s participation in the RCEP the soonest time possible.

“I can only hope for the early ratification in the next Congress. We leave this for the next administration and next Congress,” Lopez said.

The incoming administration, he said, is putting the RCEP ratification on its priority agenda, and has gained support from the next economic team.

Lopez emphasized the need for the Philippines to join this FTA in order to expand its market, attract more foreign investors, and develop its human resources.

“As I said before, any delay in ratification means that we run the risk of losing some export markets and the good opportunities in new investments as they shift to participating countries who are already part of the RCEP system,” he added.

Lopez said foreign investors are also keen on the country’s participation in RCEP, as they find it attractive to set up their businesses in countries with trade deals because these offer broader sourcing for zero- to low-tariff raw materials and a wider market for exports.

“There may be lost opportunities in investments and jobs for our people, investments such as in agribusiness, manufacturing for exports, and services,” he said.

RCEP was concluded by 15 participating countries in 2020 after eight years of negotiations.

The FTA was initiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with its free trade partners -- China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

A participating country can enjoy the benefits of RCEP 60 days after a country deposits its instrument of ratification.

In the Philippines, RCEP has to be ratified by the President and has to be concurred by the Senate.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the RCEP in September 2021.

The Senate started its hearing for RCEP concurrence last year but has not approved it until the 18th Congress is set to adjourn on Friday. (PNA)