Junking of regional trade deal urged

AT least 140 cause-oriented groups and individuals called for the scrapping of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), citing its impact on the agricultural sector.

The RCEP is a free-trade agreement being pushed by China among Asia-Pacific nations aimed at creating the world's biggest trading bloc.

It removes or reduces tariffs on certain agricultural products that are traded among participating countries.

Exempted from the deal are high-demand commodities such as rice, sugar onions, meat, carrots and potatoes.

Former Department of Agriculture (DA) chief Leonardo Montemayor

Former Department of Agriculture (DA) chief Leonardo Montemayor
Former Department of Agriculture (DA) chief Leonardo Montemayor

Led by former Department of Agriculture (DA) chief Leonardo Montemayor, the groups are urging the Senate to thumb down the trade deal, saying an influx of cheaper products from other countries would make it harder for local producers to compete in the market.

Since November 2021, the group, made up of farmers, fishers, workers, civil society and private sector organizations, has been appealing to Congress to withhold approval of the measure “until the necessary policies, strategies and programs are in place so that the RCEP benefits, and does not harm, the agricultural sector and the economy as a whole.”

Among the objectors are the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines Inc. (AGAP), Freedom from Debt Coalition, IBON Foundation, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed), Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), and Philippine Tobacco Growers Association.

“We pointed out that agriculture provides 25 percent of all jobs. Together with agribusiness, it accounts for 35 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. At least 50 percent of Filipinos depend directly or indirectly on the sector. Also, most poor Filipinos are in rural areas,” part of their statement read.

They said “the promised gains from trade liberalization — following our membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 and subsequent regional and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) — have not materialized. Our trade performance has actually deteriorated. Our agricultural trade deficit has ballooned to nearly nine billion US dollars annually.”

“Exports have not significantly expanded beyond traditional items like banana, pineapple and coconut-based products. Meanwhile, our capacity to supply foreign markets with competitive products has paled in comparison to our neighbors,” they said.

The country has become “a dumping ground for imports of practically all agricultural commodities — rice, corn, pork, chicken, fish, salt, onions, garlic, mung bean, peanuts, etc.,” they added.

Those opposed to the RCEP insist that the government must first revive the country's agriculture sector and make it competitive before allowing the entry of cheaper imported products.

“Recently, we have seen big supply gaps and price spikes in sugar, onions, rice and eggs. Things could worsen unless we act resolutely and fix the ills plaguing agriculture. Moreso if our competitors in the region — in contrast to our complacency — continue to innovate and displace us in markets here and abroad,” they warned.

They said “dire warnings about the cost of not joining RCEP are exaggerated, if not imagined. Almost all the trade concessions offered by our trading partners under RCEP will remain available to us through our existing FTAs with them, either directly or through Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Foreign investors who locate their businesses in the country will continue enjoying these preferential arrangements, even if we are outside RCEP.”

They stressed that “there is a real danger of imports displacing our local output” since RCEP will eliminate tariffs on 93 percent of the country's industrial tariff lines.

This could result in massive job losses and bankruptcies of small- and medium-scale enterprises, they said.

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Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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