MANILA — The ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP) will be beneficial to the country but there should be safeguards placed to ensure that key agricultural products are protected, a trade official said on Tuesday.
RCEP is a free trade deal among Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and the 10-member ASEAN which seeks to lower tariffs for select goods for participating nations.
In an interview with ANC, Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said only limited agricultural tariff lines would be affected if the RCEP is enforced.
"There are only about 15 agricultural products that will be affected and these are not the basic agricultural products that we have," she said.
"This excludes rice, sugar and corn and all the other basic agriculture products that we commonly consume," she added.
In an earlier statement, the Presidential Communications Office said the RCEP is among those being pushed by the Palace.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr earlier in his presidency said he was unsure if the country's agriculture sector was "sufficiently robust to take on the competition," but vowed to explore the measure further.
Despite opposition from some agriculture groups, Castelo said the Philippines is "ready" for the RCEP while the agriculture department focuses on industrialization and modernization of the sector.
"The Philippines is ready for this and it's going to increase actually our gross domestic product, it will increase of course job multiplication job generation and all that," she said.
Critics have said the agriculture sector must be improved first before allowing more foreign imports.
Higher food prices, especially vegetables, have pushed inflation to over 18-year highs. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said improving the agriculture sector would help tame inflation.