The continuing neglect of the country’s agri exports
If we continue to ignore the potential of our agriculture exports, we will not be able to generate the jobs we need to prevent poverty and attain prosperity.
We used to be way ahead of Thailand in this area. But last year, we exported just $6.8 billion, which is a dismal one-fifth of Thailand’s $35.6 billion.
If only we have the kind of governance that Thailand has, by now our agriculture exports would have been to equal to theirs. Our output in this area could have equaled overseas remittances. We would not have needed to send so many of our people abroad and bear with the social costs of migration.
This coming Aug. 29, the international trade committee of the public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Food will be discussing various recommendations to promote exports.
On export development, promotion and regulation
(1) “An interagency committee will be restored to monitor and approve import regulations.” Too many new regulations are being formulated and implemented sans any external reviews. In the end, these regulations discourage exports, increase transaction costs and make our products uncompetitive.
(2) “An action center/unit must be established to resolve export issues.” Absent a body with sufficient authority to resolve conflicting issues, deadlocks may occur, time is wasted and progress will suffer.
On trade agreements, negotiations and remedies
(1) “Private participation must be held at the very start of discussions, not when the negotiations are almost complete.” The government concludes agreements which do not sufficiently address the interests and welfare of the exporters they are supposed to serve. The recommendation will allow the private sector to contribute to the premises on which the negotiations are based.
(2) “Ensure that trade agreement implementation is effective, such as complying to conditionalities, as what is happening now with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.” If conditions are not met and implementation is flawed, agreements will only result in harm.
On monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment
(1) “Impact studies of past fair trade agreements (FTAs) must be made.” Instead of entering into more FTAs based on theories and speculation, the impact of such deals on our agriculture trade balances should be quantified and analyzed. This should improve negotiations for future FTAs.
(2) “Performance indicators on trade action should be made, such as the discrepancy between our imports recorded by the exporting country and our own record of these imports, which indicates smuggling.” Indicators must be analyzed in depth. Results would be able to suggest accurate and specific solutions to any discrepancies uncovered.
(1) “Provide for the proper personnel positions and budget support for the antismuggling effort.” If not, we won’t be able to see the end of reports such as the United Nations Comtrade’s study showing smuggling increasing from P500 billion in 2019 to P1.2 trillion in 2021. No money, no honey.
(2) “Support third-party pre-inspection of imports at the country of origin.” This preventive measure is being implemented in other countries with great success. It provides a safeguard against local authorities who may sometimes be in cahoots with smugglers.
The above recommendations are both urgent and critical. That they have not been done until now shows neglect for our international trade potential.
We must also have an overall agriculture export vision and direction. We must set an ambitious agriculture export target (not the $8.9-billion five-year target previously stated).
All of the above can only be accomplished with strong political will. If Thailand has done it, so can we. We must not fail our future generations by continuing to neglect our potential in agriculture exports.
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]