MANILA - The Senate will form a technical working group to help decide whether to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement.
This was the Senate's decision after holding a hearing on Tuesday with various agricultural groups and government representatives.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda said guidelines need to be set to help monitor RCEP's effects on the country in case the deal is passed.
RCEP is a free trade agreement among ASEAN members and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. It reduces or erases tariffs on selected products.
Several agricultural groups however oppose RCEP saying it will do more harm than good to Filipino farmers. They said Philippine agricultural products are not protected as the influx of imported products will flood the markets. There are also existing free trade deals with ASEAN and other countries, so there is no need to ratify RCEP, opponents of the deal said.
The Department of Trade and Industry meanwhile defended RCEP saying it will be a big boost to the local economy as there will be a bigger market for Filipino products as well. Philippine companies may also import cheaper raw materials from other countries.
Because of the statements of both sides, the senators said they may form a group or committee to discuss the guidelines for the creation of a special oversight committee to monitor the effects of RCEP if the Senate ratifies it. They added that RCEP itself cannot be amended or changed, but the committee may monitor the functions of government agencies relating to RCEP.
"Gagawa tayo ng guidelines, policies, programs, funding, resources, commitments, and oversight that will ensure that the agencies who negotiated for this and who are mandated to bring about a robust agricultural sector and who will try the DTI to bridge the trade deficit will do better than better, will do their best," Legarda said.
Zubiri added, "We'll create a special committee to oversee that special instructions for the implementation of RCEP para matutukan talaga natin yung support and development these agencies should be giving farmers and different sectors."
Agricultural groups insisted they want the guidelines before ratification and not after. Legarda assured them the guidelines will be the basis of the ratification. She added, the agriculture groups will help create the guidelines with the help of government agencies. No timeline has been set so far.