Exporters, labor score gov’t for offensive response to EU

Exporters and labor groups yesterday scored the Duterte administration on the way they’re handling the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus issue with the EU stressing the offensive statements will not do the country good especially to roughly 600,000 workers who will be affected if the zero-duty privilege on the country’s exports is removed.

Bobby Amores, president of the Philippine Food Exporters which is composed of small food processors, stressed that exporters are already reeling as it is due to competitiveness issues and the least, they would need are unnecessary combative statements from the government.

He reminded the government that exporters and producers do not just need addressing competitiveness issues such as high cost of production, logistics, supply chain, and strong peso, but also maintaining good relationships with governments that provide benefits to the country’s exports.

 “Our position should be very positive not offensive especially now that we have issues on pandemic the more we have positive relationship with other countries, we need markets, not offensive statements that are not important,” said Amores.

It could be recalled Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Filipinos have nothing more to lose since the country's economy has hit "rock bottom" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Speaking in Tagalog, Roque said "Kung gusto nilang dagdagan ang pahirap ng samabayang Pilipino sa panahon ng pandemya, so be it! Gawin na nila ang gusto nilang gawin! Sa mga panahon na ito, if they want to implement it, go ahead!"

 Amores also took a swipe at the finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas on the very strong peso saying that the Philippine peso, which is touted as the best performing currency in Asia, cannot feed hungry stomachs among poor Filipinos.

“We have to focus on competitiveness issues, which include our relationship with other countries,” he said.

He cited the current “Rebooting Agriculture” program of the Department of Agriculture, but stressed the government should position the country in the market better.

He noted that the two billion dollar commodities of the Philippines – coconut oil and bananas – are no longer in that league because of competitiveness issues. It will suffer further if the country loses its GSP Plus status.

Amores explained that EU has a population of 480 million encompassing 27 economies of Europe with high purchasing power that is why all government promotions are directed towards EU where demand is growing exponentially.

“So, we need full attention whether in trade or in production… We have to protect ourselves from possible EU GSP removal. The DA is there, but the government must also look into the GSP closely because these are the benefits that cascade down to the workers and ease unemployment,” he pointed out.

 Trade and Industry Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty also acknowledged the huge economic loss if the Philippines is removed from the GSP Plus list of beneficiaries. The Philippines exports 7.63 billion euros to EU of which 2.71 billion euros are qualified for zero duty under the program. Of the 2.71 billion euros, Gepty said the Philippines exports 1.95 billion euros in 2019 or a high utilization rate of 72 percent of the EU-GSP Plus program. A total of 6,274 products are granted zero duty since 2016. The biggest product beneficiaries form the Philippines are coconut oil, vacuum cleaners and tuna.

“So, if straight analysis it is not just the economy that will be affected but also the business sector will suffer tremendous, massive impact on socio economic development,” he added.

Atty. Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers and chairman of NAGKAISA, also said that as a privilege the EU-GSP Plus also comes with conditions that the Philippines comply with its commitment with the 27 UN Conventions including ILO Convention 27 and 98 on the right to collective bargaining agreement, labor, governance and climate change.

Failure to comply with these conditions would mean removal of the privileges that would affect roughly 600,000 workers, including those working in the various economic zones and manufacturing companies in the country, the 100,000 workers under the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and the estimated 121,350 workers in the General Santos tuna industry.

 “That is why we are calling on the government to comply with these commitments and not ignore the accusations of human rights violations because many have been affected,” he said citing the killing of 43 labor leaders that remained unresolved. The local labor groups have brought these issues before the International Labor Organization, he said.

He further urged the government to answer all these accusations or send missions to the EU and not be afraid if there is nothing to be afraid of.