Finally, the agriculture sector will be heard
The Department of Agriculture (DA) and disappointed farmers, fisherfolk and agriculture stakeholders will meet today, March 11, to find solutions and work collectively to address potential threats stemming from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Stakeholders will finally work together so that the suffering the agriculture sector experienced upon accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 will not happen this time around.
When an international trade agreement is finalized, all players must abide by its rules and take the necessary steps to optimize its results. But when we joined WTO, we did not do what Vietnam did (i.e., undertake the necessary preparatory measures). Vietnam benefited, while we suffered.
The same dangers we experienced with the WTO are the same threatening us now with RCEP.
It is time the DA and the private sector, through the legislated Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries, come together.
It was the lack of private sector participation and consultation that brought us to the dilemma we have today.
The DA has been insisting the RCEP posed no threat to agriculture and therefore, there was no need for preparatory measures. But 102 private organizations, which submitted a signed Feb. 3 statement to the Senate, had strongly contested this.
In that one year and four months before the RCEP negotiators announced they had an agreement on November 2020, the private sector was deprived of participation.
Today is finally the day. It is like a new, refreshing phenomenon we are now seeing in the electoral process.
The private sector participation in governance strongly emphasized by Vice President Leni Robredo motivated the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) to break their 18-year nonpartisan policy to endorse Robredo. Consistent with their position, AA recommended the March 11 coming together of agriculture stakeholders.
Among the issues that will be discussed at the meeting are:
Safeguards. Without first preparing our rice farmers for the 35-percent tariff commitment to the WTO, our government immediately implemented it with a promise that consumer prices will go down and farmers’ incomes will go up.
The end-results were very different: Prices decreased in nominal terms (not including the unusual 2018 year when imports were significantly delayed) by only 2 percent, while farmer incomes decreased by 23 percent.
Antismuggling. Rampant smuggling may increase with more imports coming in under RCEP.
An indicator of the extent of smuggling is the Bureau of Customs’ report that P8.85 billion in tariff revenues were lost from March 29, 2019, to October 2021. Restoring the successful public-private oversight antismuggling committee, which helped reduce smuggling during the times it was harnessed, will also be discussed.
Preparatory measures. The most important subject will be the preparatory measures identified per agriculture subsector. These include the implementation of a market information system, strengthened quarantine mechanisms, processing facilities, specific support services and targeted subsidies.
The DA should be commended for linking up with the private sector to address RCEP.
With political will, deferring the ratification of RCEP by a few months will enable agriculture to implement the most necessary preparatory actions.
With the promise of tomorrow (or today, rather), I hope agriculture will not be left behind again.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]
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