MANILA - Several agricultural groups on Wednesday reiterated their opposition to the ratification of the Philippine participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) saying it could hurt local farmers.
Some government officials are pushing for the passage of the RCEP ratification or the free trade deal among the 10 ASEAN members as well as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor said the Philippine agriculture sector is not ready for RCEP, which would see an influx of cheaper products from other countries. He said although the Philippines can also export, the agriculture sector mostly can only produce for the local market.
"Pagka sumali tayo sa RCEP free trade, inaasahan namin lalong lalaki ang mga papasok na agricultural products halimbawa gaya ng bansang Tsina na powerhouse agri exporter. Mahihirapan ang ating mga farmer," Montemayor asserted.
(If we join RCEP, there will be an increase in agricultural products coming in from China, a powerhouse exporter. Our farmers would suffer)
RCEP allows for zero or reduced tariffs on some agricultural products trading in participating countries. Exempted from the agreement are so-called sensitive items like rice, sugar onions, meat, carrots, and potatoes.
Various groups said the government should first help the agriculture industry become more competitive so that local farmers can compete. That is not the case now, groups said.
"At higit sa lahat dapat ang i-uphold at i-promote ay self sufficiency policy at hindi food imports dependency policy (most of all we should uphold and promote self sufficiency and not food imports dependency policy)," said former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano.
Even if some items are exempted, there will still be an effect as countries would find it cheaper now to export to the Philippines and may be able to cover the taxes on exempted products, the groups said.
They insisted more studies have to be made before joining another free trade deal.
Bong Inciong of the United Broilers Association said nothing much has changed by joining the World Trade Organization. He said the government assumed that once importation was liberalized, prices would go down as producers compete. But this was not what happened, he said.
"Ang problema, hindi maman gumanda ang buhay ng mga mamimili, hindi naman nagmura ang mga bilihin," Inciong said.
(The problem is, life wasn't better for the consumers and the prices did not go down.)
The Department of Trade and Industry has been pushing for the Senate's ratification of RCEP saying it would benefit the Philippines as it would lower the prices of goods, and Filipino-made products can easily be exported.
The Philippines is the only country among RCEP members that has yet to ratify the agreement which already started in 2022.
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