DTI says RCEP will protect PH agri amid worries local farmers can't compete with imports

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2023 05:04 PM

 Workers prepare onions for selling at a trading post in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija on February 2, 2023 as the harvest season begins in 'the onion capital of the Philippines.' Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Workers prepare onions for selling at a trading post in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija on February 2, 2023 as the harvest season begins in "the onion capital of the Philippines." Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on Thursday assured farmers that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement will protect them, amid fears the trade deal will hurt their industry

Trade Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty said the possibility of harming the agriculture sector is "remote" with the RCEP as the tariff reduction from the countries of Australia, New Zealand, China and South Korea would be "minimal."

"'Yong mga produkto na kung saan ay binabaan natin iyong taripa or tinanggal natin iyong taripa ay mga produkto na hindi natin pinu-produce or produkto na wala rin tayong trade. Kaya ‘pag pinag-usapan iyong epekto or iyong harm sa sector na ito, that is I would say remote," said Gepty during a public briefing. 

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"Dito sa RCEP, pagdating sa agriculture sector, technically ang binuksan mo lang dito na… I would say na mas in-improve mo iyong taripa or tinanggalan mo ng taripa, ay with respect lang siya 33 na agricultural tariff lines so napakaliit nito," he added. 

Measures are in place to make sure that even micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will benefit from the trade deal, and that local producers will not be on the losing end, he said.

"Mayroon din tayong RCEP safeguard measures ‘no na kung makita natin na mayroong unexpected, sudden, sharp increase ‘no sa trade on certain products and we see that it threatens ‘no a local industry or a local stakeholder, then they can always avail of these remedies," he said. 

RCEP also aims to include MSMEs, the DTI official said, into the global value chain through digitalization. 
"Gusto natin na iyong ating mga small and medium enterprises din ay makapag-supply or makapag-contribute sa mga malalaking firms or companies na kasama sa isang double value chain," he noted. 

The Philippines has yet to ratify its participation in RCEP after Filipino lawmakers deferred their decision on the matter. The partnership is a free trade deal among the 10 ASEAN members as well as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

The free trade deal will also allow more agricultural products from other countries to enter the Philippines with zero tariffs.

Former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor had said the Philippine agriculture sector is not ready for RCEP, which would see an influx of cheaper products from other countries. 

Although the Philippines can also export, he said the agriculture sector mostly can only produce for the local market.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. last year said RCEP should be reexamined to ensure that it won't diminish the competitiveness of local farmers and the agriculture sector.