More agri groups oppose RCEP

Published December 12, 2021, 7:00 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

A coalition of nearly a hundred agricultural organizations based across different parts of the country has made an appeal to the senate to delay its concurrence to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

In a statement, Bayanihan sa Agrikultura said “the country will never gain from this [RCEP] and similar arrangements unless the government is able to establish, fund, and implement dedicated and sustained programs to boost the competitiveness and profitability of our farmers, fishers, traders, processors and exporters.”

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In the position paper the group submitted during the recent hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the ratification of the said trade deal, the coalition argued that it is nonsensical to push for RCEP membership when the benefits from this agreement are “essentially theoretical or imagined”, whereas its dangers are real and proven by previous experience.

“There is no urgency in joining RCEP today. We can always join later, when we have adequately understood the treaty’s ramifications and are ready to use RCEP membership to our advantage. Trade is not a race of countries to a finish line. Ultimately, trade is only a means to elevate people’s lives. Governments must thus exercise care and deliberation, so that trade agreements deliver on their promises, while minimizing harm to vulnerable sectors of society,” the coalition stated.

Signed by 14 representatives of farmers and fishers groups, civil society and other stakeholders, the statement cited the drop to zero tariff of 75 percent of 1,718 agricultural tariff lines, and the significant reduction of other tariff lines.

The groups then proposed to the Senate committee, chaired by Senator Koko Pimentel, that before the ratification of RCEP, a more detailed breakdown and evaluation of the country’s obligations are necessary to prevent flawed deals and that sufficient policy space remains to protect sensitive commodities.

They also raised alarm on the obstacles posed by RCEP in the application of trade measures, such as safeguard duties, that are the only legal recourse of local industries to address import surges and problems caused by this liberalized trade deal. They explained that any form of quantitative restriction (QR) – like suspending sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) import clearances during harvest periods – is strongly discouraged by RCEP.

The agriculture coalition, composed of 99 member organizations, proposes that the Senate hold its nod until the next administration is seated.

During the senate hearing, the speakers from the coalition lamented the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) failure to consult with stakeholders who will be directly and severely affected by the RCEP.

“It is only now that they present numbers regarding agriculture when we do not have the time to review these,” the group said.

Instead of focusing on trade treaties, Bayanihan sa Agrikultura recommends that the current administration focus on raising the quality of life of agriculture stakeholders and enhancing it competitiveness before another trade deal is sealed.

 
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