THE Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said the Senate must immediately ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, citing the risk of losing out on foreign investment should further delays ensue.

“Foreign investors will favor locating in other RCEP countries, including those already in the Philippines, who are likely to move their business out of the country the longer we delay ratification,” MAP said in a statement on Tuesday.

“All told, we risk not only failing to attract new investments and trade opportunities; we are also likely to lose those we now have to those already in RCEP,” it added.

The RCEP, which started coming into force in the various member countries on Jan. 1, is touted as the world’s largest free trade agreement involving Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Philippines is one of two countries yet to ratify RCEP, along with fellow ASEAN member Myanmar. One of the other holdouts, Indonesia, signed on at the end of August.

“We have already lost 10 months of ability to compete on equal footing with our ASEAN and Asian partners already in RCEP in attracting foreign investment as they capitalize on the shift by a number of MNCs to seek alternative locations for their manufacturing sites,” it said.

MAP noted that the delay in signing onto the agreement deprives domestic producers of easier access to global markets and easier trade flows due to the agreement’s simplified rules of origin.

“The threat of likely diversion by their buyers of their business to other members already in RCEP is very real,” it said.

The Philippines failed to sign on to RCEP in the previous Congress due to concerns by some Senators over the absence of safeguards for agriculture.

Federation of Free Farmers President Leonardo Q. Montemayor has said the RCEP approval effort “highlight(s) its benefits in terms of market access opportunities (but) conveniently downplays, if not deliberately conceals (a) crucial caveat that any tariff concession from our trading partners under RCEP will not be exclusive to the Philippines, and will in fact be available to all other RCEP member countries.”

“This means that there is no guarantee that we will be able to avail of and benefit from such opportunities especially if competing countries who are also part of RCEP are more competitive, dependable, and efficient than us,” he added.

MAP described as “misplaced” opposition from the agricultural sector, noting as well that sensitive agricultural products remain protected under the Philippines’ commitments to RCEP. These products include rice, pork, poultry meat, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbages, sugar, and carrots. “All will retain the restrictions they currently enjoy,” it said.

“Both the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) have explained that membership in the Agreement opens up further export opportunities for our agricultural products, without exposing ourselves to an imagined flood of farm imports feared by opponents,” it added.

Senator Imelda Josefa Remedios R. Marcos, who chairs the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has said that the DA’s track record of preferring imports instead of developing productive farms has been cited as a potential deal-breaker within the chamber.

The DA has “an unparalleled record of reckless importation, which is why stakeholders are very fearful,” she said at a hearing.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary-designate for Policy, Research and Development Noel A. Padre contends that the DA’s mandate of ensuring food security takes heed of the necessity of improving domestic productivity, describing one of the strategies being pursued as “distributing our domestic production from surplus areas to deficit areas.”

“We encourage imports only when domestic production is not enough to address our demand,” he added. “With respect to the agriculture and fishery sector under RCEP, we assure the committee that we will continue to engage our stakeholders.”

Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual said last week that the Marcos administration is determined to sign up to the agreement. “President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. is committed to ratify it.”

The chamber has asked the executive branch to send formal notice of its endorsement of the treaty.

“Apparently, there have been no formal letters or endorsement of RCEP with this admin except that the President was the one who asked me to pass it,” Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said at the floor. “We can’t act on anything that’s not on our table.”

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara has said key Senate officials commit to accelerating the process with colleagues in the executive branch.

“The Philippines cannot afford not to be in RCEP, as part of what promises to be the most important economic grouping in the world,” MAP said.

“It is time that we got on board and proactively exploit the wealth of opportunities it offers the Filipinos in terms of expanded jobs, increased incomes, and better lives,” it added. “We strongly urge our honorable Senators to ratify RCEP now.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan