RCEP delay due to government inaction | Inquirer Business

RCEP delay due to government inaction

It is government inaction, not the agriculture sector, that is responsible for the Senate’s deferral of the country’s accession to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This inaction was evident during the negotiations, especially toward the ratification schedule.

Several agriculture leaders have stated that since RCEP could be beneficial to industry and services, they would be willing to accept RCEP even though it could be very disadvantageous to agriculture. But basic agriculture preparations must first be made, they said. Unlike the Vietnam model with its prepared accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) translating to benefits, we did practically nothing. This ended in an agriculture disaster in the country. We do not wish this to happen again with RCEP.


The WTO promises were not fulfilled. Instead of increasing agriculture value added by P60 billion, our agriculture share of total value added decreased from 21 percent in 1993 to 10 percent in 2018. Instead of the promised 500,000 annual additional agriculture jobs, the number of agriculture workers, which was 11.4 million (40 percent of the labor force) in 1993 went down to 9.7 million (23 percent) in 2019.

On supposedly improving our agriculture balance of trade, our 1993 positive balance of $292 million has deteriorated to a negative P8.9 billion in 2021. The Philippines is now the only country among Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) which imports more than it exports.


So what happened during the RCEP negotiations?

Instead of agriculture private sector leaders providing valuable input for the negotiations, they were banned from contributing as the Department of Agriculture (DA) abolished the international trade committee of the public-private Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF).

The committee was only revived in late 2021 because of angry testimonies during the Senate hearings. But by that time, no more RCEP amendments were allowed.

Still, thinking of the possible benefits to industry and services, several agriculture leaders were willing to accept RCEP, except they wanted conditions that could be met in a few months to at least partially protect agriculture.

Consequently, on Jan. 5, the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) proposed (with unanimous approval from PCAF) that the DA discuss preparatory steps. Note that the DA had earlier stated that RCEP posed no threats, and therefore, claimed that the country needed no preparation. About 83 organizations and 21 leaders signed an official document submitted to the Senate strongly disputing this.

Last March 11, a PCAF subcommittee unanimously agreed that the DA should commit to five specific preparatory actions:

1. Restore public-private monitoring of DA budget use, given the huge P22-billion unliquidated expenses in the Commission on Audit 2020 report;


2. Reinstate a public-private oversight committee against smuggling, which had reduced the smuggling rate by 25 percent and 31 percent during two different periods;

3. Strengthen the very inadequate quarantine and border control measures involving health and safety. Lack thereof caused the entry of the devastating African swine fever;

4. Improve trade safeguard mechanisms, the lack of which resulted in rice retail prices decreasing by only 2 percent, while farmers’ incomes dangerously dropped by 23 percent; and

5. Most importantly, follow the Vietnam model, by identifying threats and recommendations for the key agriculture vulnerable sectors.

Since the government did not make a commitment to any of these actions, the AA, composed of three critical sectors of farmers and fisherfolk, agribusiness, and science and academe, wrote a 23-page RCEP primer personally delivered to each senator’s office. The government inaction was documented there. This was partially responsible for the June 1 Senate denial of the planned RCEP ratification.

If RCEP ratification is desired, the government should reverse this inaction and gross neglect of the agriculture sector, which has been abused for too long. Only then can we progress together as a united people.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: Commentary, government inaction, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
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