Farmers and businessmen gave opposing views on the delayed Senate approval of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement that will create the world’s largest economic bloc.
The Federation of Free Farmers lauded the decision of the Senate to delay the concurrence to the trade accord. The group also urged the government of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to consult extensively with agriculture stakeholders on how to prepare farmers and fishers for RCEP, mitigate its threats on vulnerable sectors and take advantage of export opportunities.
“Our sector’s opposition to RCEP is largely due to the mishandling of the issue by the Department of Agriculture. The DA stopped all consultations on RCEP in mid-2019. When talks were resumed in late 2021, changes in the agreement were no longer possible. Even then, the DA never acknowledged RCEP’s threats to the sector, despite data showing that our farmers were unprepared and our trade deficits were increasing by billions of dollars every year,” said FFF national manager Raul Montemayor.
Meanwhile, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Makati Business Club and Management Association of the Philippines reiterated its call on the Senate to ratify the Philippine membership in the RCEP.
RCEP’s 15 member economies include the ten ASEAN members plus Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea. Together, they account for 30 percent of the world’s population and of global GDP.
“Like any free trade agreement, RCEP provides wide economic opportunities for our country, along with certain threats to uncompetitive industries, and individual producers and their workers. And like in the other free trade agreements the country has joined [of which our country has the least, compared to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam], the overall economic gains in terms of net job creation, economic growth and price stabilization will well outweigh the costs. Government has the responsibility to assist those adversely affected meaningfully and effectively, to allow them to achieve competitiveness or adjust to alternative products or livelihoods,” the business groups said.
The business groups said RCEP will help MSMEs expand market access, especially with more liberal rules of origin on traded products to qualify for trade concessions. “It will also provide broader and cheaper alternative sources for inputs and reduce costs of doing business through improved trade facilitation, especially customs and trade clearance procedures,” they said.
“Exclusion from RCEP would be immensely costly to our economy and our people. We can anticipate a significant decline in our exports to RCEP countries, which now account for nearly two-thirds [64 percent] of our total exports, as trade with us will logically be diverted to fellow members,” they said.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez expressed optimism that RCEP would be ratified early in the next Congress. “I can only hope for the early ratification in the next Congress. We leave this for the next administration and next Congress,” he said.
Lopez said any delay in ratification of the trade deal means that the Philippines run the risk of losing some export markets and the good opportunities in new investments.
“Many investors we talk to always ask about our RCEP ratification. Of course, we will do our best to keep the investors’ confidence and interest high on the Philippines as investment destination,” he said.