3 RCEP conditionalities unmet
There are three conditionalities for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to become acceptable, but these have not been satisfied. These conditionalities were specified by the AgriFisheries Alliance (AFA) representing three critical sectors: Alyansa Agrikultura for farmers and fisherfolk; Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. for agribusiness; and Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP) for science and academe.
The AFA position is as follows:
“Considering only agriculture, RCEP has more disadvantages than advantages. However, if it is proven that the benefits to the industry and services sectors outweigh the disadvantages to agriculture, RCEP should be ratified. But to minimize the damage to our agriculture sector, the following three conditions must first be met:
(1) Since more agriculture imports are expected, strict border controls should be implemented to prevent further damage. One is the restoration of an antismuggling oversight body with private sector participation. The other is to strengthen quarantine and other first border controls to address effectively health and safety standards, which are implemented strictly for our products but not for imports.
(2) To ensure that agriculture gets the support it needs to effectively compete with imports, the public-private agriculture budget monitoring committee should likewise be restored. As in the past, the private sector [should] monitor the Department of Agriculture (DA) budget, both nationally and in the provinces.
(3) The vulnerable sectors exposed to more import threats must be identified, and the corresponding measures undertaken.”
The three conditionalities were approved last March 11 by a subcommittee of the public-private Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries. Ten months later today, almost nothing has been done.
Last Jan. 5, the Senate committee on foreign affairs called a technical working group meeting. On the restoration of the public-private sector antismuggling committee, the Bureau of Customs representative gave no indication that this would be created. The DA representative also gave no statement on the private sector’s role in monitoring the agency’s budget.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) representative said there were no threats to agriculture related to RCEP, but 83 organizations and 22 leaders say otherwise. Likewise, the representative also claimed the freedom of information initiative was a good alternative to an antismuggling committee.
Last Jan. 15, AFA sent the following main points to the Senate foreign affairs committee:
– Because of time constraints, the exchange of information and discussion was severely limited.
– Some items that should have been discussed were: 1) sectors experiencing import violations will now have more difficulties because of the added RCEP imports, and therefore require corresponding measures; 2) the Freedom of Information Act cannot be as effective as the antismuggling committee, which reduced smuggling by 25 percent and 31 percent under two previous presidents; and 3) the private sector monitoring of the DA budget is necessary to prevent a repeat of the P22 billion in unliquidated and unexplained DA expenses in 2020.
– It takes very little time to implement the three conditionalities. These will partly make up for the 28 years of not providing the necessary agriculture support services since our 1995 World Trade Organization accession, as well as the 26 years of noncompliance with requirements specified in the 1997 Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act.
Ratifying RCEP should be done in the context of our significant agriculture problems today. United Nations Comtrade statistics show that the difference between the reports coming from exporting countries compared to what we actually receive has ballooned to P1.2 trillion in 2021 from P500 billion in 2019.
President Marcos has implemented the right direction by significantly increasing the DA budget by 40 percent. The rest of the government should follow his lead by taking immediate action on the three conditionalities. Otherwise, government neglect of the agriculture sector will continue.
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