THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said the Philippines does not expect to ease its meat-handling standards as part of any trade deal with the United States, amid pressure for Washington to align Manila’s rules with international practice.
“The primacy of domestic rules for this will remain,” Trade Undersecretary for Industry and Development Ceferino S. Rodolfo told reporters in Manila on Tuesday when asked for comment on progress in discussions over the Philippines’ meat-handling rules.
He said the Philippines is open to “cooperation” but will stand by its own policies.
Among the highlights of last week’s joint statement following talks reviewing the 1989 Philippine-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement was a deal to work on improving the Philippines’ cold storage rules, identified as a recurring bilateral trade issue.
The deal on cold storage is “to ensure observation of international guidelines and codes of practice for food hygiene adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.”
The US has long been raising concerns about the Philippines’ meat-handling policies, describing them as discriminatory because they apply separate requirements for frozen meat that not apply to freshly-slaughtered domestic meat.
During the Philippine trade policy review this year, the US said that it remains “very concerned” as these policies “are inconsistent with well-established science on food safety.”
The country’s meat-handling rules are outlined in the Department of Agriculture’s Administrative Orders (AOs) 5 and 6.
AO 5 imposes requirements on the handling of freshly-slaughtered meat, which is usually not frozen or chilled while AO 6 provides rules for the hygienic handling of chilled, frozen and thawed meat.
“These are legitimate measures,” Mr. Rodolfo said, explaining that the climate makes Philippine practice necessary.
“What we want to guard against is imported frozen meat being thawed at any point en route to the retailer,” he said. In terms of the domestic market, he said wet markets selling domestically-slaughtered meat have few coolers but turn over their inventory quickly, making spoilage less of a problem.
He said that the long-standing cold chain issue has risen to prominence because more Filipinos are buying meat from supermarkets, which often have freezers suitable for the sale of imported meat.
“As the country develops, fewer people will be buying from public markets and more will go to supermarkets,” he said, noting that the Philippines wants to take a collaborative approach to unify cold storage rules to make them more applicable to domestic meat,” Mr. Rodolfo added, without elaborating.
Mr. Rodolfo pointed out improvements in the public market system as several local government units continuously launch public-private partnerships in a bid to make cleaner their markets.
He added that the Board of Investments, which Mr. Rodolfo also heads, has approved several cold storage facilities this year.
The further development of cold storage facilities is expected to be led by the private sector with the aid of the US which committed to provide technical help on a “best efforts” basis “subject to the availability of US resources.”
Asked when Manila and Washington will start discussing the scope of free trade negotiations, Mr. Rodolfo said that there is no timetable.
The two countries may have the chance to meet in November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Papua New Guinea. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio