By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE agriculture industry must harness the technology transfer opportunities if it is to fully take advantage of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an agriculture analyst said. 

“Beyond 2023 until 2025, the Philippines can open up its economy more by participating in freer trade agreements like RCEP. For as long as it is prepared to harness technology transfer in all possible fronts especially in agriculture, a freer trade regime is good for the (industry),” Roy S. Kempis, a retired professor at the Pampanga State Agricultural University, said in a Viber message.

“Our farmers and agribusinessmen have to learn how technology can improve their productivity,” he added.

Agriculture accounts for about a 10th of Philippine gross domestic product (GDP). Agriculture output contracted in the first two quarters of 2022 but expanded 1.8% in the third quarter.

Of particular concern was the capacity to bring the cost of production to at least level with other countries, Mr. Kempis said. “The idea is to scale up (initially), to achieve sufficiency, and eventually to be able to export what is not needed domestically.”

RCEP is a free trade agreement involving the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and dialogue partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. 

“With RCEP being ASEAN-based, the Philippines has a platform for extending free trade agreements to non-ASEAN blocs,” Mr. Kempis said. “The country can make itself attractive not only for mutually beneficial trade, but also for needed investments from foreign governments and businesses.”

The Senate failed to ratify RCEP earlier this year, with senators citing the lack of safeguards for the agriculture industry.

RCEP is viewed as a means for China to minimize US influence in the region. As a counter, the US has offered the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a bid to achieve greater economic integration.

Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual said in July that participation in the RCEP was a government priority. President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. who is concurrently Agriculture Secretary, has said that after a review, he requested that the Senate ratify the trade agreement.

Mr. Kempis said the key for the Philippines is to obtain more investment in research and development to boost farm productivity, and to set up more processing facilities to preserve the harvest, develop the cold chain, add to the logistics and distribution network, and to innovate in the marketing of its produce.

“With President Marcos (expressing a preference for) an investment-led regime (to create) jobs, improving job quality, and generate decent incomes. this in turn will in turn perk up consumer appetite,” Mr. Kempis said. “This cycle when repeated will be good for the economy and well-being of the majority of, if not all Filipinos.”