MANILA - Philippine agricultural products will be protected even as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) finally takes effect, two Senate leaders said on Friday.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri during Friday’s media briefing on the post-approval scenario of RCEP said, agricultural products like rice, corn, among others will be exempted from tariff rates in this so-called “world’s largest free trade agreement.”
“Hindi kasama ang major agricultural products dito sa RCEP na ito. Ibig ko pong sabihin, as is, status quo. Ang tariff rates ng agriculture products katulad ng mais, palay, bigas, rice, corn, grains, fruits and vegetables. Walang maiiba,” Zubiri said.
Even the tariff rates of meat products – be it pork or beef – will not be changed, he stressed.
“So whether we join RCEP or not, it is the status quo. So definitely joining RCEP will be to the advantage of any other industry that needs export markets,” Zubiri said.
Within eight years or by 2031, one study also projected an additional 1.4 million jobs in the Philippines, particularly, 300,000 jobs in agriculture, 77,000 jobs in industries and 991,000 jobs in services, the Senate leader said.
The Senate resolution concurring the RCEP ratification was already signed by Zubiri and is scheduled to be transmitted to the Office of the President Friday.
The signing ceremony was joined by Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda who will also head the RCEP oversight committee; Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual and Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty.
In the same press briefing, Legarda maintained that there is “nothing wrong” with RCEP.
Legarda also said she will closely monitor the RCEP's implementation and will continue to listen to the concerns of groups who are opposed to it or apprehensive about its would-be effects on the Philippines. She added that exports are expected to flourish with the help of RCEP, which will be felt by 2031.
Wages are also expected to increase, and poverty incidence will be reduced, she said.
“I hope it comes true, and this is a collaborative effort, not of the Legislature but by the Executive departments. DA, DTI, NEDA, Customs, DOF, everyone. There will be a reduction in poverty incidence, bababa hopefully, ang paghirap, hopefully by 3.62 percent,” Legarda said.
For Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual, one of the advantages that RCEP promises is a fast economic recovery from the effects of the pandemic through the influx of investments into the Philippines.
And those who would benefit from the RCEP will also include those in the MSME sector, specifically those who buy their materials abroad or supply their products overseas, Pascual said.
Zubiri likewise projected opportunities for small, micro and medium entrepreneurs.
Canned tuna manufacturing and electronics will be among the top industries that would benefit from RCEP, Pascual said.
“Yung industries that will export. Specific industries, yung lower tariff will be available to canned tuna, reduction in tariff in Japan, and other member countries, so that industry will benefit immediately,” Pascual said.
“With RCEP it will accelerate our status to becoming an upper middle class economy,” the Secretary added.
Zubiri also said the country may withdraw from RCEP if the expected benefits from the partnership will not be achieved, or if there will be an influx of imported goods
“The last two lines of the resolution… guaranteed (ang option to withdraw). Kung dehado tayo and there’s influx of goods all over, then definitely, a review will be in place and there will be, an order. And we can recommend to the President (to withdraw),” Zubiri said,
The Senate, however, quickly asked the public to “look forward” and avoid thinking of the RCEP’s failure this early.
Legarda likewise confirmed the existence of a withdrawal option in the RCEP provisions.
“Yes there is a provision but there are safeguards in our agreement, trade remedies, surge of imports… there are trade remedies not just in RCEP, even in WTO.
Several farmers' groups are opposing RCEP saying the country is not prepared for the free trade deal, which could lead to a flood of imports.
Business groups meanwhile have backed the deal saying it could open new markets for Philippine products.