Amidst the opposition raised by a group of farmers against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty, emphasized that the RCEP agreement provides vast opportunities for the agricultural sector ranging from enhanced market access, trade facilitation measures, time bound consultation in addressing trade issues to more investments in research and development in agricultural sciences and even manufacturing.
He also clarified that highly sensitive agricultural products for the Philippines are excluded from the country’s Schedule of Commitments. “This means that these products are still protected by tariffs”, Gepty clarified.
Some of these agricultural products include swine meat, poultry meat, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbages, sugar, carrots, and rice.
“Our farmers and producers should view RCEP as an opportunity for them to have a stable access to cheaper farm inputs and implements such as fertilizers, pesticides and farm machineries. They can also export their products to the RCEP region at a preferential and more trade facilitative arrangement, and in the process RCEP will encourage investments in food processing and even R&D in agricultural sciences and technology. In sum, our agricultural sector will reap these benefits while at the same time enjoying tariff protection on certain agricultural products”, Gepty added.
Based on data, 74 percent of the country’s importation of fertilizers is from RCEP Parties such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, Korea, Viet Nam, and Japan, and 70 percent of the importation of insecticides is also from RCEP Parties such as China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. For importation of agricultural machineries, 78 percent of which are from RCEP Parties such as Thailand, China, and Japan.
On the allegation of the group of farmers that RCEP restricts the country’s trade remedies, Assistant Secretary Gepty clarified that the said claim is not accurate. Perforce, RCEP provides more trade remedies and flexibilities to the country.
“Our farmers should bear in mind that the safeguard measure they are referring to in the agreement is an RCEP transitional safeguard measure which a party can impose to prevent or remedy the serious injury to the domestic industry by suspending further reduction of any rate of customs duty committed under the agreement, or increase the rate of customs duty to a level not to exceed the lesser of the MFN applied rate in effect on the day the measure is applied or the MFN rate in effect on the day immediately preceding the date of effectivity of the RCEP Agreement”, Gepty explained.
According to Assistant Secretary Gepty, RCEP parties can still avail of the safeguard measures provided for in the WTO agreement, thus, the RCEP transitional safeguard measure is in fact an additional trade remedy for the farmers. He also added that the RCEP Agreement even provides a mechanism to modify concessions should there be a need to do so. “In other words, the RCEP Agreement provides ample flexibilities and remedies to our local industries including the agricultural sector”, Gepty added.
A study conducted by Dr. Caesar Cororaton, a Research Fellow at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (USA) and a Visiting Scholar at the De La Salle University (DLSU), noted that the RCEP is estimated to improve the country’s trade balance by as much as $28.2 Million, increase overall welfare by $541.2 Million, contribute to a 1.93 percent real GDP growth, and lower poverty incidence by 3.62 percent in 2030.
The said study also provides an insightful analysis on the significant gains of the Philippines from RCEP, not only in terms of trade and GDP, but also in the area of poverty reduction and overall welfare.