Employers say time to deliver on RCEP promises to farmers

THE Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECoP) said the approval of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) means the focus must now turn to delivering on the safeguards promised to farmers and other businesses exposed to more foreign competition.

“What we should really address now are the safeguards that we have promised the farmers… our support for the interest of the farmers in terms of supply of better seed and fertilizer and… water the whole year round… so our farmers can really be competitive,” ECoP President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The treaty itself is okay, but the way we implement things sometimes is different (and) whatever we say in black and white sometimes doesn’t happen especially in the area of smuggling,” he added.

Billed as the world’s largest free trade agreement (FTA), RCEP was ratified by the Senate on Feb. 21. Participating countries are entitled to trade goods with minimal to zero restrictions on quantity, tariffs, or import taxes.  

RCEP started taking effect on Jan. 1, 2022. The participating countries include the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

The FTA involves about a third of the global economy and will remove 90% of tariffs charged by the participating countries before the trade deal took effect.

Mr. Ortiz-Luis said that the government should also address smuggling after signing up for RCEP.

“Smuggling will still be a problem with or without tariffs. This can make the lives of the farmers difficult,” Mr. Ortiz-Luis said.

He added that he expects exporters will find it easier to comply with the requirements for accessing preferential tariffs following the consolidated of the ASEAN rules of origin.

“In the export sector, we are looking at opening up markets because of the lower tariffs; we are expecting that it would help us,” Mr. Ortiz-Luis said.

Separately, Philippine Competition Commission Chairman Michael G. Aguinaldo said in a Feb. 27 briefing that the government needs to provide further support to farmers with the advent of RCEP.

“One of the concerns would be… that (farmers) might be on the losing end because there’s the fear that agricultural products might flood the market. It would depress prices. Good for the consumer but bad for the farmer,” Mr. Aguinaldo said.

“The solution doesn’t lie in not ratifying the RCEP but in the government providing the needed support in terms of financing and technology so our farmers can upgrade their operations and be able to compete with other countries,” he added. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave