The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) urged the Senate to defer the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement pending the conduct of consultations with farmers.
In a statement, the FFF pointed out that the Department of Agriculture (DA) has not conducted any formal consultations with farmers and other stakeholders yet on the sGocope and levels of tariff and other commitments it has pledged under the RCEP.
It also said that there should be studies and consultations on the potential impact of the agreement on Philippine agriculture.
The RCEP is a multilateral trade agreement between and among ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chaired by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III recently started hearings that may lead to the ratification of, and formal entry of the Philippines into, the trade agreement.
“We are in the dark as to what the government has committed to other RCEP countries with respect to our agricultural products. There used to be a Committee of International Trade (CIT) under the DA, through which stakeholders were regularly consulted on the Department’s negotiating strategies and positions,” said FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor.
“Unfortunately, Secretary William Dar disbanded this committee when he assumed office in 2019, and there has been absolutely no consultation ever since on any trade negotiation, including the recently concluded Philippines-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and now the RCEP,” he further said.
The FFF noted that the country has generally not taken advantage of trade opportunities arising from previous trade agreements, including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-Uruguay Round (GATT-UR) under the World Trade Organization (WTO), and regional agreements such as the ASEAN Trade In Goods Agreement (ATIGA), and bilateral agreements with China, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
“Our exports have not grown significantly, and we have failed to promote and export goods other than traditional commodities such as banana, pineapple, and coconut-based products. There is no dedicated program to help farmers produce export-grade products, nor are processors and exporters given ample support to comply with international standards and compete with other countries,” Montemayor said.
“Meanwhile, our imports of food and other agricultural products have increased, resulting in escalating agricultural trade deficits and reduced farm incomes during the past two decades,” he added.
The FFF urged the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to require the DA to undertake a detailed and comprehensive consultation with stakeholders before taking further action on the RCEP ratification proposal.
It also asked the Committee to instruct the DA to commission an independent review and assessment of the impact of ongoing free trade agreements on Philippine agriculture and small farmers, and the potential effects of RCEP on the country’s sensitive agricultural sectors.