THE head of the Senate foreign relations committee called for safeguards to ensure that affected industries are sufficiently protected from the effects of what is being billed as the world’s largest free trade agreement.

Senator Maria Imelda Josefa Remedios R. Marcos, who chairs that chamber’s foreign relations committee, said of the “transitional safeguards” at a hearing: “We have to do it ourselves, so we should have measurable, time-bound plans for the next 10 to 15 years on the effectiveness of RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) in full.”

She called on the Departments of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Trade and Industry, and the Bureau of Customs, among others, to prepare long-term plans to deal with RCEP’s impact

“I hear nothing from any of you, the only thing I hear is that you’re selling RCEP to us, but you do not plan for those that will be affected,” she said. “We should have a plan on how to help and overcome the difficulties that will come with RCEP.”

“Let us stop denying that there will be difficulties and sacrifices. Of course, this will happen because this will lead to bulk imports,” she added.

Trade Assistant Secretary and RCEP chief negotiator Allan B. Gepty, speaking at the hearing, said RCEP allows for adequate accommodations.

“We are ready,” he said. “If you will note, under the provisions of RCEP, when it comes to commitments, there are grace periods, transitions, flexibilities, they have really taken into account the capacity of RCEP parties.”

“This is not so sudden that the moment that RCEP takes effect in the Philippines, all the commitments will already have to be implemented,” he added. “Depending on the commitment, there will be transitions and they will also have their own segments.”

There are also complementary initiatives that will help RCEP parties become more prepared, Mr. Gepty said.

“But you have to be ready at the point of signing,” Ms. Marcos said. “We cannot get into an arrangement where we are completely bereft of any skills or powers.”

“At the point of signing, not at some mythical future date,” she added.

Mr. Gepty concurred, noting that in negotiations, their first consideration was ensuring that the deal does not breach Philippine law and the capacity of the country’s institutions.

The RCEP started taking effect in the various jurisdictions on Jan. 1. Participants include the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

The Philippines and Myanmar are the only remaining countries that have yet to formalize their participation in RCEP.

Ms. Marcos has called for the establishment of a technical working group to finalize the committee report on the ratification of the RCEP trade agreement. The committee expects to report it out to plenary after the Christmas break. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan