HUANGSHAN CITY, China – Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) deputy secretary general Anna Reboniol said micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will benefit from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, particularly with government support.
“That is one of the objectives of the RCEP — to help MSMEs to go into the mainstream of regional trade, let them play or perhaps help them by developing them to nurture their industries and have a bigger role in the supply chain,” Reboniol said in an interview with media on the sidelines of the 2023 RCEP Local Governments and Friendship Cities Cooperation Forum here on June 10.
“The supply chain, the production networks are controlled by big companies, the multinational companies if they can go to the MSMEs as supporting industries, then that would also be good,” the Filipino ASEAN official added.
According to the ASEAN website, there are 70 million MSMEs in the region’s member countries of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Reboniol said MSMEs account for more than 90 percent of the businesses in the Philippines and helping them become exporters will further boost the economies in the region. She urged ASEAN member states to invite their MSMEs to utilize the RCEP agreement and get benefits from it.
She said the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has done public awareness promotion to help strengthen the MSME sector. “I am not sure what level of information dissemination the DTI has done but a lot is being done. I know the department gives priority to MSMEs and is doing efforts to reach them,” she said.
To encourage more MSME participation, she said the provisions of the RCEP agreement should be simplified to make sure they are easily understood by ordinary business people.
Reboniol said capacity-building can also help boost the MSMEs by holding training about RCEP agreements in countries with a high number of MSMEs.
“If they know, they can export and the government can do trade facilitation and skip the layers of bureaucratic processes apart from the use of digital systems in the customs that are fitted to them,” she said, adding that it was actually the Philippines that pushed for the inclusion of MSMEs in the RCEP.
“When I joined the negotiation as chief negotiator for the Philippines, MSMEs was actually out of the negotiating table but we managed to put that in,” Reboniol said, pointing out that a market access clause has been added to the agreement to protect farmers.
“We did not give to the RCEP our sensitive agricultural products like rice, sugar, highland vegetables, and meat so there shouldn’t be entry to the Philippines, except if it is us who asked that we get it,” she added.
Laoag City Mayor Michael Marcos Keon who also attended the forum, said, RCEP is good for the Philippines’ economy. “It is good that we participate in the RCEP. As ASEAN members, it makes it easy for us to access goods from all these countries and at a cheaper level, and it is good for the economy,” he said.
The RCEP entered into force in the Philippines on June 2, over two years since participating countries concluded the free trade deal in November 2020. Aside from ASEAN member states, other RCEP signatories include China, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
In his virtual message, ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kin Hourn urged and encouraged member countries to intensify efforts to increase RCEP participation.
“Intensify effort for the private sector, private companies, and the MSMEs in your countries to take part in the agreement and utilize the benefits of the RCEP agreement,” Kao said.
He advised signatory countries to further harmonize rules to lower transaction costs. (PNA)