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48 agri groups oppose ratification of RCEP free trade deal

Philstar.com
48 agri groups oppose ratification of RCEP free trade deal
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (R) is pictured on a TV monitor clapping next to other country signatories during the signing ceremony for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact at the ASEAN summit that is being held online in Hanoi on November 15, 2020.
AFP / Nhac NGUYEN

MANILA, Philippines — Fourty-eight local agriculture groups are up in arms over the looming ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, which they said was finalized without consulting stakeholders in the farm sector.

The groups — composed of farmers, fishers, workers, and businesses — are calling on the Senate, which is inches away from ratifying the trade deal, to “withhold” their concurrence to RCEP, arguing that the lack of consultation among stakeholders deprived them of the opportunity to shape the agreement into something that won’t hurt their livelihood.

RCEP is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

 “The RCEP agreement was finalized without consulting agri-fisheries stakeholders, who are directly affected by it.  No more opportunity exists today to modify our commitments or the agreement’s legal text,” the 48 signatories said in a statement. 

The 2011 Association of Southeast Nations Summit in Bali, Indonesia then conceived the free trade agreement, designed to erase 90% of tariffs on imports within 20 signatory countries. 

The treaty, which also aimed to establish common rule for e-commerce and trade, was formally signed in a virtual summit in November last year wherein all ASEAN-member countries were signatories save for Timor-Leste. China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand signed onto the agreement as well.

“There is no clear and consistent basis for classifying agricultural tariff lines in the country’s schedule of tariff concessions,” the groups said.

These agricultural groups lament that once the Philippines formally ratifies RCEP, 75% of the country’s 1,718 agricultural tariffs will be set to nil.  They project 15% of tariffs will be reduced, leaving 9% spared from any changes. 

The 48 stakeholder groups are fearful of the rules change that will hamper how effective trade remedies will be enforced, citing safeguard duties as the sole legal solution for import surges, when the level of goods coming in exceed normal levels. 

Likewise, the group pointed out that the RCEP discourages quantitative restrictions on imports, coinciding with the Philippines’ Rice Tariffication Law’s ban on this. The stakeholders are also wary of projections and possible losses if a country opts out of the free trade agreement.

“Performance data instead show our deteriorating terms of trade – minimal increases in exports, reliance on traditional commodities, ballooning imports, and widening trade deficits.  Our prospects will likely not improve under RCEP,” they said.

Some 30,000 firms of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry endorsed the Senate’s looming ratification of the free-trade treaty in a hearing on Friday, which supposedly consulted with economic stakeholders around the country. 

Among the signatories of the group were Rafael Mariano, ex-agrarian reform minister under the Duterte regime, and Ernesto Ordoñez, former undersectary of agriculture and trade in past administrations.

“Even without RCEP, our bilateral and regional free trade agreements with all RCEP member- countries will remain in force.  We will still enjoy opportunities available outside RCEP,” the 48 groups said.

“We can continue negotiating with our Free Trade Agreement partners to secure additional advantages that are comparable to RCEP’s,” they added

RCEP REGIONAL COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP
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