A group of farmers has threatened not to support re-electionist senators if they will not junk the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade deal.
In a statement, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) urged the Senate to reject the RCEP trade agreement when it is presented for plenary deliberation this month.
“The FFF challenges the Senators to prove their loyalty to the country’s farmers by junking the treaty,” the group added.
Under the Constitution, at least 16 or two-thirds of the 24 Senators must concur in the treaty before the country can join the trade bloc, which implementation will start on January 1, 2022.
The RCEP consolidates the various bilateral trade agreements between the Philippines and Japan and the regional free trade agreements between
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
“This will be a litmus test, especially for the Senators running for re-election in May 2022. Many farmers are fed up with the ‘import, import, import’ policy of the current government and we will make sure that they will know how their Senators voted on this life-and-death issue,” said FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor.
The group cited official data to confirm that the promised gains – more agricultural jobs, investments, and trade volumes – from previous trade agreements have generally failed to materialize.
Moreover, they said, the government failed to honor its commitments to provide effective support for the farming sector as mandated under such laws as the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996 and the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997.
Meanwhile, the country’s exports have not expanded significantly beyond traditional commodities such as banana, pineapple, and coconut products, which are generally grown or traded by large companies instead of small farmers.
While agricultural exports exceeded imports before the country joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, the trade deficit has since ballooned to over P400 billion in 2018.
“Despite the rosy predictions of some economists, there is nothing to show us that RCEP will reverse this trend. In fact, our actual experience for the past 25 years of trade liberalization gives us sufficient basis to expect that things will get worse,” Montemayor said.
“We will be unable to take advantage of the so-called trade opportunities because of our seriously defective production and marketing systems. It will be our competitors who will capitalize on RCEP and flood us with imports,” he added.
He further said that the executive branch was deceiving the Senators into thinking that the country stands to incur huge losses if it does not join RCEP.
“All existing free trade agreements with RCEP countries will remain in force, even if we are outside the treaty. In fact, some of these agreements provide us with better tariff and other concessions than those that were offered under RCEP,” said Montemayor.
Montemayor pointed out that the projected growth in foreign investments arising from RCEP membership was not guaranteed and is mainly illusory.
He said that investors can always decide to put their money in other countries where the costs of doing business are lower.
Data indicates that the Philippines has ranked significantly lower than major ASEAN countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia in terms of foreign direct investments (FDIs).
The other week, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Executive Director Jayson Cainglet said the Philippine agriculture sector didn’t experience any remarkable growth since joining WTO.
Like Montemayor, Cainglet believes that the purported gains in trade, production output, and employment never happened.
“The WTO has made our country into a net food importing country, destroying our decades-old capacity to produce our own food. The WTO has undermined our food security, much more our food sovereignty where we decide our own agriculture and food policy,” Cainglet said.
“The promised market access for developing countries like the Philippines never materialized as the WTO was really intended to expand the market opportunities for the big players such as the US and EU, and lately China and the other members of the G8. But there was never a public apology on these projections that instead caused a massive dislocation of farmers and the devastation of our agriculture sector,” he added.