MANILA, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- The full conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year is "very probable," Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Friday, adding that the free-trade pact will likely be signed in early 2020.
Lopez voiced optimism that the pact to broaden and deepen the engagement of the 10-member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with its trading partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand "would be concluded this year and signed in early 2020."
"With 20 out of the 25 chapters concluded in the last meeting in Vietnam, the full conclusion of the RCEP this year is very probable. A positive report can be presented to the heads of state when they meet for the third RCEP Leaders' Summit in November," Lopez said.
Lopez said the remaining five chapters under negotiations are Rules of Origin, Trade Remedies, Trade in Services, Investment, and E-commerce.
The trade ministers expect the remaining chapters "to be concluded before the end of the month and any remaining issue will be part of a work plan for resolution at the soonest," he added.
To meet this deadline, Lopez said two additional meetings were scheduled prior to the thirds RCEP Leaders' Summit in November in Bangkok, Thailand.
The RCEP, initiated by ASEAN in 2012, is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the 10 member states of the association and the six FTA partners of ASEAN -- China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.
Indeed, RCEP is envisioned as the biggest trade deal. With 16 trading partners, it is equivalent to almost 47.4 percent of the world population, 32.2 percent of global GDP, 29.1 percent of trade worldwide and 32.5 percent of global investment.
After RCEP's conclusion, Lopez said the Philippines will enjoy lower trade barriers and increased market access for its goods and services to its 15 country partners.
The Philippine trade chief said, "RCEP parties are pushing for their respective interests and there are naturally complexities in the negotiations, amidst the backdrop of a changing global economic environment."
ASEAN, founded in 1967, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.