Let next Congress tackle RCEP, farm groups urge government

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Various farm groups have urged the government to

Let the next administration decide whether or not to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), to make room for deeper consultations with various sectors that could be harmed by the free trade agreement.

The groups said the government has so far only highlighted the economic benefits of joining the international trade deal and not the potential negative impact on key sectors of the economy.

In an online briefing on Monday, Free Farmers Federation president Leonardo Montemayor, a former agriculture ministry secretary, said industry stakeholders had been ‘kept in the dark’ over the past two years due to the lack of consultation.

RCEP consolidates existing regional free trade agreements between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Jonjon Santos, president of the Fresh Fish Traders Association of the Philippines, said the fisheries and aquaculture sectors had not been able to keep up with RCEP-related developments since they had not been not invited to any consultation.

“If we want to be part of RCEP, we have to prepare. You have to know what you’re getting into. This is how we can protect local producers,” Santos said.

Elias Jose Inciong, president of United Broiler Raisers Association, added that the agricultural sector in the Philippines is not ready to operate under the proposed trade bloc where goods can move more easily across extended borders, while such as when the country joined the international World Trade (WTO) in 1995.

“RCEP is a more liberal version of the WTO. When we joined the WTO, we weren’t prepared. Other countries are making good use of their data to anticipate future problems so they can avoid them. Here it is the opposite. We are still waiting for this to harm our local producers first before our government intervenes. RCEP will further harm our industries. This agreement favors importers, not our local producers,” Inciong pointed out.

“They left the sector in favor of importers and now here we are in the age of climate change, supply chain disruptions. Increasingly we are made more import dependent,” he said. he said, adding that “as far as I am concerned, we are on dangerous ground”.

Chester Warren Tan, president of the National Federation of Swine Farmers Inc., added that if RCEP were ratified without consultations, the vital sector would be “much affected”.

Tan reiterated his call for the government to prioritize local producers, who find it increasingly difficult to compete with foreign products, many of which come from countries that heavily subsidize their farmers.

“Everything is one-way and our industries are struggling. We must aim for food self-sufficiency. It is dangerous to rely on imported products. If there is a shortage, what will happen to us? he added.

President Duterte approved the deal last year, but it has yet to be ratified by the Senate as required by the Constitution.

The Senate has already adjourned for election season.

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