Agriculture export initiative not yet complete
The Philippine Export Development Plan launched by President Marcos last June 15 is an excellent initiative that focuses on increased export promotion. But this will only turn out whole and complete if unnecessary regulations harming our agriculture export drive are removed.
A few days before the launch, private sector members of the Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) and the Export Development Council (EDC) met to discuss the problem.
PCAF, which is chaired by the Department of Agriculture (DA), has a Committee on International Trade (CIT). EDC, on the other hand, is chaired by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and has a Networking Committee on Agriculture Policy (NCAP). Both CIT and NCAP are chaired by the private sector.
What motivated the discussions among PCAF-CIT and EDC-NCAP private sector members were the numerous complaints by their exporter constituents on too many harmful export regulations. Even with excellent promotion, dysfunctional regulations will prevent our planned export expansion.
Our agricultural attachés in neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan report that those governments go out of their way to support their exporters. The opposite is happening here. Harassment, rather than help, is what they often get.
These dysfunctional regulations affect not only agriculture, but also the industry. In a recent communication with the PCAF-CIT, the electronics industry cited a Bureau of Customs (BOC) regulation called the Electronic Tracking of Container Cargoes (ETRACC): “The ETRACC increases redundant costs and process time to load and unload containers. The electronic industry has had no technical smuggling in over 30 years. We account for $49 billion export and over 3 million direct and indirect workers.”
The containers for both industry and agriculture exports are already sealed and tracked systematically using globally recognized systems. ETRACC is good for import containers, where control systems are absent, to prevent leakage and technical smuggling. But for export containers, ETRACC should be abolished, or at least drastically reconfigured.
Two critical issues must now be addressed.
A major problem today is that nobody supervises the issuance of regulations, so much so that these have become unnecessary and harmful.
A similar disastrous situation occurred much earlier. On March 25, 1985, President Ferdinand Marcos, the current president’s father, issued Executive Order 1016. It stated that government regulations “have been identified as among the procedural and documentary requirements which may be eliminated in the interest of facilitating exports.” An interagency committee (IAC) was then created and chaired by the DTI to control these regulations and eliminate the dysfunctional ones.
The implementing rules and regulations further stated: “No new inspection, commodity, and export clearance requirement may be imposed/required by a government office/agency, unless approved by the IAC.”
Such an IAC must be activated immediately.
Export action center
The second major problem is that exporters have nowhere to go for the resolution of their valid issues. In 1987, the DTI institutionalized the Export Assistance Network (Exponet). While, it is very helpful in facilitating communication with different government agencies, it does not have the authority to decide on necessary actions.
For example, there was a case of an exporter complaining to Exponet about a clearly unreasonable BOC procedure that was not justified in any document. BOC refused to move, and Exponet could not do anything about it. Subsequently, the BOC official threatened the exporter for having complained to Exponet.
Exporters are therefore left with their problems unresolved. An export action center/unit with authority to decide could be part of a strengthened Exponet. It can derive its authority from the same IAC that supervises regulations.
Our agriculture export (negative) trade balance last year declined by 33 percent to $11.8 billion, while all our neighboring countries had a very large positive trade balance. We should therefore complete our export initiative by adding focus on eliminating unnecessary and harmful regulation to our commendable new export promotion drive.
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 agriwatch_phil@yahoo.