Agriculture has found a powerful ally in the National Competitiveness Council. It is chaired by Trade and Industry Secretary Gregorio Domingo for the public sector and co-chaired by Guillermo Luz for the private sector.
The public sector is represented in the NCC Board by the Secretaries of Education, Tourism, Energy, Finance and Neda. The Agriculture Secretary should also be included in this board. Competitiveness is needed not just in industry, but also in agriculture. This is especially important because of the Afta no-tariff regime in 2015. If identified agriculture sub-sectors are not competitive, they will die and even existing jobs will be lost.
Many articles have recently been written on how our economic growth should be more inclusive. President Noynoy Aquino has identified three sectors that can best contribute to this goal: agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.
In the NCC website (www.competitive.org.ph), there are 11 NCC working groups listed. Last Dec. 6, a 12th was created: agriculture (including agri-business).
Alyansa Agrikultura, which represents all major agricultural sectors, has recommended key actions that DA should take to speed up agriculture development.
However, to implement some of these recommendations, other government agencies must cooperate with DA. Otherwise, no action can be taken.
Why is NCC needed to promote agriculture? Because it is in the NCC that different government agencies are motivated to work together, especially since the NCC reports directly to the President.
The NCC has an impressive track record. The World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Competitiveness Report showed the Philippines inching up 10 notches to the 65th spot out of 144 countries.
More importantly, this success followed a similar 10-notch jump to 75th place the previous year.
It is the first time that we landed in the upper 50 percent of countries ranked in this global competitiveness survey.
The Philippines registered improvement in 11 out of 12 identified categories: government institutions, infrastructure, macro and economic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication and innovation.
No improvement was recorded in health and primary education. The biggest improvement was in government institutions, where the Philippines jumped 26 places to 94 from 117 the previous year.
The NCC is an institution that should be commended for this impressive 20-notch improvement. It has developed a reputation for getting things done.
Last Feb. 7, three committees were formed to address two of the NCC agriculture group’s objectives, which are increasing farmer incomes and decreasing food prices.
The credit committee is headed by a former Agriculture Secretary; anti-smuggling by an Alyansa Agrikultura leader; and logistics by a known transportation expert.
The logistics committee chair had written the executive summary of a 900-page submission of a six-consultant team I led on the agriculture value chain.
This has since been published by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a 113-page book entitled “From Seed to Shelf: A Logistical Evaluation of Philippine Agriculture.” Many of the recommendations in this book could not be implemented because of a lack of inter-departmental cooperation.
With the NCC, these recommendations can now be executed. Similarly, in the anti-smuggling area, where DA lacks the full cooperation of Bureau of Customs, the recommended anti-smuggling measures can now be implemented through NCC because of NCC’s direct accountability to the President.
Significant agricultural development can only be possible with the synergistic contributions of different government agencies. NCC’s impressive track record in achieving inter-agency cooperation, coupled with its new emphasis on agriculture, is a good omen for agriculture’s future.
(The author is chairman of Agriwatch. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax 8522112.)