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FVR, Aquino legacies for agriculture

/ 03:20 AM December 02, 2015

Former President Fidel Ramos and current President Benigno Aquino III have given us Apec legacies that can significantly benefit Philippine agriculture in 1996 and 2015, respectively. Below is a summary table we have constructed identifying the essence of these important legacies. We will quote portions of the “Apec Leaders Declaration” from these years to identify them. (See table)

In 1995, Japan hosted Apec in Osaka. The Leaders’ Statement said: “We believe our economic reforms based on market mechanisms have unleashed our people’s creativity and energy.” Two commitments documented were the “acceleration of tariff reductions” and “early implementation of WTO agreements.”

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In 1996, the Philippines hosted Apec in Subic, Zambales. President Ramos assigned me the task of interacting with the private sector, especially farmers, fisherfolk, women and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises). After intensive dialogues with them, a three-person delegation composed of Nicanor Perlas, Dan Songco and myself gave our findings to President Ramos. Though trade liberalization in many areas was desirable, too rapid trade liberalization for other areas caused much displacement and harm.

In the Philippines, we saw sudden tariff reductions result in job losses and increased poverty in strategic areas such as agriculture. This is because there was no level playing field. While several developed countries wanted us to have the same low tariffs as theirs, they were not willing to decrease their subsidies to our level. In addition, our government was not able to provide the necessary competitiveness enhancement measures such as technology, credit and support services that we needed to compete in the global environment.

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Ramos believed the existing Apec trade liberalization emphasis should be changed to sustainable development. He succeeded in including the following phrase in the 1996 Declaration: We have affirmed our commitment to sustainable growth and equitable development.” The statement added an emphasis on “ensuring that liberalized trade contributes to sustainable growth and development.”

In addition, Ramos recognized the strategic role that the private sector could play in Apec. It was in 1996 that the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) was first organized and convened. Even then, the Leaders Statement gave importance to “the growth of small and medium enterprises.” It was also then that the first Apec Women Leaders Network was convened.

2015 Apec

What has happened since the Philippine Apec hosting 19 years ago?

Today, there are more sustainable development than trade liberalization committees. Abac and the Women Leaders Network continue to be significant Apec contributors. Nevertheless, President Aquino led Apec in adding significant new initiatives under the 2015 Apec theme of “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.” The following are three such initiatives:

  1. Aquino helped ensure that trade liberalization would not be implemented in a haphazard way that would cause tremendous harm. The 2015 Statement reads: “We underscore the need to avoid the emergence of a divided community in the region-those connected to global markets benefiting from integration and those left behind being unable to realize their potential.” For the first time in Apec, the contribution of domestic demand was stated: “Weakening external demand growth highlights the importance of promoting domestic demand.”
  1. Services constitute 40 percent of Apec trade. And yet this sector has been given little attention because of the Apec emphasis on products. The Apec Statement highlights this in its recommended structural reform: “We support economies in their efforts to explore new growth areas, including reforms at further strengthening the services sector by fostering creativity and innovation.”
  1. Though MSMEs were identified in the 1996 Declaration, much had to be done to support them. Aquino spoke emphatically on this, which partly resulted in the following Statement Provision: “We underscore the significance of the participation of MSMEs in global commerce to inclusive growth and will take action to facilitate such participation.”

Application to agriculture

The Ramos and Aquino Apec legacies should now be vigorously pursued and implemented to benefit our agriculture sector. For example, our future agriculture trade agreements should emphasize progressive fair trade and not harmful rushed trade liberalization.

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More attention and support should be given to the services that are necessary for agriculture development, such as technology transfer, credit and market mechanisms.

Farmers, fisherfolk and agribusiness entrepreneurs should be given special attention in the drive for more effective MSME involvement in a complete value chain that can best ensure our food security at a time of climate change. Implementing these legacies will significantly help us achieve our needed inclusive growth.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax 8522112.)

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TAGS: Agriculture, Benigno Aquino, Fidel Ramos, President Aquino
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