Agri groups in final drive to stop RCEP

AGRICULTURE stakeholders have expressed anew their objection to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), saying there is no guarantee the trade pact would benefit the Philippines since other RCEP member-countries are more competitive.

“RCEP proponents claim that we have not made any major commitments in agriculture beyond those already found in existing [free trade agreements] FTAs. They add that
sensitive products like rice, meats, vegetables and corn are exempted from tariff reduction. Hence, they conclude, there is nothing in RCEP to worry about,” the agriculture stakeholders said in a statement on Wednesday.

The agriculture stakeholders expressed their concern that “things could worsen, unless we act resolutely and fix the ills plaguing agriculture. More so, if our competitors in the region—in contrast to our complacency—continue to innovate and displace us in markets here and abroad.”

The stakeholders present at the press briefing on Wednesday were Rafael Mariano, former Agrarian Reform Secretary; Janel Geconcillo, Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK); Raul Montemayor, Federation of Free Farmers (FFF); Bong Inciong, United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA); Rene Ofreneo, Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC); and Jayson Cainglet, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG).

As the Senate is poised to tackle the issue of the regional trade pact concurrence, the coalition of agriculture stakeholders and trade justice advocates have come together to express their strong opposition to the agreement.

In a televised interview on Tuesday, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary  for Consumer Protection Group (CPG) Ruth B. Castelo said, “we have to understand that there are only 33 agricultural tariff lines that will be affected. Out of the numerous agricultural products that we trade with other countries, there are only 15 agri products that will be affected and these are not the basic agricultural products that we have.”

Castelo stressed that this excludes rice, sugar, and corn, and “all the other basic agri products that we commonly consume.”

Meanwhile, the agriculture stakeholders noted that new trade or market access opportunities under RCEP cover a tiny percentage of the country’s agricultural tariff lines and trade value.

Moreover, these stakeholders said “there is no guarantee of their benefit to us, because other RCEP member-countries will enjoy the same privileges. They will be gainers, and we will be the losers, if they are more competitive than us.”

‘Real danger’

The agricultural groups noted, however, that in terms of industry, particularly for agriculture, there is a “real danger” of imports displacing the country’s local output, since they said the regional trade pact will eliminate tariffs on 93 percent of the country’s industrial tariff lines. Hence, they stressed that this could result in “massive” job losses and bankruptcies of small and medium scale enterprises.

The stakeholders also brushed off RCEP advocates’ claim that the trade deal by itself is good, and that concerns about the agriculture sector’s readiness to compete should be addressed separately.

The proponents of the regional trade pact made no serious effort to dialogue “meaningfully” to avoid past mistakes and to achieve real progress, the groups added.

“This shows that the executive is taking our concerns lightly. Nor does it have a credible plan on mitigating threats and maximizing opportunities in RCEP,” the stakeholders said on Wednesday.


IN contrast, Trade Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty said in a recent chance interview with reporters that if one examines RCEP, “you actually have plenty of flexibilities or policies-based when it comes to adopting and implementing measures.”

Gepty said if the concern is a surge of imported products, there will be trade remedies to address the issue, as well as general safeguards and special safeguard measures.

“In addition, we have the RCEP transitional safeguard measure so what I’m saying is, there’s even a  trade remedy like anti-dumping measure, countervailing measure, they are still applicable,” the Trade official said.

The regional trade deal is currently with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. After the hearings, the Committee will submit a recommendation to the plenary, where interpellations are expected.

The Committee has a technical working group (TWG) to identify issues and let concerned agencies air their concerns.

DTI earlier expressed hope the Senate will approve the regional trade deal within the first quarter of 2023.


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