MANILA — Several agricultural stakeholders and farmers on Tuesday launched the 'Bantay RCEP,' an initiative that aims to guard against what they say are the excesses of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade deal.
The RCEP is a free trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand, and several Indo-Pacific countries that will supposedly facilitate easier exchange of commodities among member countries. It was ratified by the Philippine Senate earlier this year.
But agricultural stakeholders have long opposed RCEP, saying it will flood the country with cheap imports and hurt local food producers.
Danny Fausto, chair of the Philippine Chamber for Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), also noted that non-tariff barriers are being imposed by other countries on Filipino exporters.
Fausto said other countries require Filipino exporters to put local language translations in the packaging of products.
He said one way to check RCEP is to also require other countries to put Filipino translations in the packaging of products being exported to the Philippines.
"Hindi naman sa dini-discourage sila. Mahirap din sabihin na pinapahirapan sila. Pero let's just level the playing field," Fausto said.
(It is not that they are being discouraged. It is not right to say that we are making it difficult for them. But let's just level the playing field.)
Fausto also said Filipino-owned MSMEs will be disadvantaged by the easier entry of imported products into the market.
"Para sa consumer, dadami ang imported na mapapagpilian, pero paano naman sa farmer?" he said.
(For the consumer, there will be more imported products to choose from, but what about the farmer?)
Josua Mata of SENTRO, a labor organization, also said that based on several studies, jobs in several industries including agriculture and manufacturing may be affected when RCEP takes full effect.
Cathy Estavillo of Bantay Bigas said RCEP adds to the burden experienced by rice farmers already suffering from the Rice Tarrification Law.
"Lagi naming sinasabi, palakasin ang produksiyon, hindi importasyon," she said.
(We always say, boost production, not importation.)
Estavillo said RCEP will liberalize many other commodities at the expense of Filipinos working in food production.
Other groups who joined the forum, including the United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA), the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).