MANILA - Several groups on Monday urged the government to rethink the ratification of the country's participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) due to threats to local industries and potential income losses.
RCEP is a free trade deal among 14 other nations including ASEAN member states and its partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Sonny Africa, the Executive Director of the independent think tank IBON Foundation, said the country has not benefitted on any of the past trade agreements that promised more investments and better jobs for the Filipinos.
He said the government was downplaying the lower tariff revenues and failed to see that the country is poised to lose roughly $58.2 million in revenues due to RCEP concessions, he added.
"Mahaba na ang karanasan natin sa free trade agreements. Maraming marami ang naipangako, pero marami rin ang napako," he said during a people's forum organized in UP Diliman.
Some free trade agreements, he said could lead to trade deficit and "worsening" food import dependency.
"Oo lumalaki ang kalakaran ng exports, pero mas malaki ang iniimport natin," he said.
Former Agrarian Reform Secretary and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMU) Chairman Emeritus Rafael Mariano said Filipino farmers would suffer income losses due to the expected increase in the imports of agricultural products.
He also said local products are not competitive in the bigger export market.
"Hindi na maiiwan ang agrikultura kasi matagal nang naiwan iyan. Wala ring kasiguraduhan na mas maraming papasok na investments," he added.
What the government should do, he said, is to increase the productivity and quality of our local produce, and implement measures to attain food self-sufficiency instead of opening the local market to more imports.
"Ang export markets hindi mawawala iyan, kung competitive ang mga produkto natin...competitive ang cost of production, competitive ang farmgate price, competitive ang quality at presyo sa domestic market," he said.
RCEP would also destroy the fishing industry since there would be more conversion and reclamation projects in the coastal areas, fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA said.
"Matagal nang pinaglalawayan ng foreign investors ang ating coastal area para pagtayuan ng mga malls, recreational areas at industrial parks. Mas lalala pa iyan, mas dadami ang reclamation sa ng mga palaisdaan," PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando Hicap says.
While businessmen engaged in private aquaculture may thrive, small fishermen will suffer heavy losses, the group said.
RCEP is unlikely to result in more jobs for the Filipinos, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said, but instead would cause more layoffs and increased unemployment following the possible closure of many industries.
"Dapat i-withdraw ito ng gobyerno ng Pilipinas, bawiin ito, dahil hindi ito makatutulong, hindi ito sagot sa kahirapan, kagutuman at ang pagunlad ng ating ekonomiya," KMU Chairperson Jerome Adonis said.
Center for Environment Concerns Philippines Inc (CEC) Executive Director Lia Torres, meanwhile lamented the lack of environmental provisions in the RCEP that would guarantee the protection of the country's resources.
With increased trade activities, there would be more extraction of natural resources that could lead to environmental degradation and destruction, the group said.
The effects of climate change might also worsen, it added.
"May pagaaral na ang pagtanggal ng trade barriers ay magpapataas ng walang habas na pagpuputol ng mga troso para paramihin sa export. Isa pa ang mga plantasyon din dahil sa ngayon ilan klase na ng plantasyon mayroon sa Pilipinas...mas lalawak pa ito na magreresulta sa land grabbing at higit lahat ang conversion ng mga forest at pagpapalayas sa mga magsasaka at katutubo," Torres explained.
RCEP can also potentially result in a monopoly on pharmaceutical products, Filipino Nurses United said.
Filipinos would have less access to affordable medicines, the group said.
"RCEP will further entrench the power of the pharmaceutical companies to extract profits and deprive millions of people from affordable treatment," FNU leader Jocelyn Andamo also said.
Unhealthy food products and commodities may also flood the local market and cause health problems among Filipinos, she said.
"It will embolden alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and processed industries that are drivers of non-communicable diseases," she added.
Together, the groups called on the government to rethink its participation in the RCEP and withdraw its membership before we feel the negative impacts.
"Hindi naman tayo sarado sa import ng raw materials na hindi pa natin kayang likhain. Hindi naman tayo sarado sa export ng mga produkto nating agrikultura, pero sana tugunan muna ang mga pangangailangan ng mga mamayan," Mariano stressed.
Economic managers have said the RCEP could give the country access to more markets, create jobs and boost economic recovery. The trade deal also has provisions to protect "sensitive" products such as rice and corn.