PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE GOVERNMENT needs to carry out an in-depth study on the effects of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), incorporating proper input from the agriculture sector, farmers’ organizations said at a virtual forum.

“We were only informed of RCEP benefits that our country will receive if we ratify this agreement, but they didn’t mention any expected threats or disadvantages. They didn’t give us any assurance that there are safety nets in place to protect our industries. If you don’t identify the threats, you don’t come out with safety nets. We hope that honest-to-goodness assurance from the Senate will be given,” Federation of Free Farmers Chairman Leonardo Q. Montemayor said.

“There was a resolution transmitted from the Committee of Foreign Affairs, but there is no report. This is an unusual committee resolution endorsed to the Senate for concurrence. The senators don’t even know the arguments of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), because there are different studies with different conclusions. Which of these studies should be closely looked into by the Senate?” Mr. Montemayor said.

“While they are claiming all the advantages of RCEP, from the start they did not cite any threats or disadvantages,” National Federation of Hog Farmers, Inc. President Chester Warren Y. Tan added.

On Feb. 2, the Senate decided not to concur to the ratification of RCEP and adjourned session for the election break.

RCEP is a free trade agreement involving Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of ASEAN.

The farm industry expects to struggle under RCEP, judging by the Philippine experience with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“RCEP is a more liberalized version of WTO. When we joined WTO, we were not prepared. Other countries make good use of their data to anticipate future problems, so they are able to avert it from happening. Here, it is the opposite. We always wait for it harm our local producers first before our government steps in. RCEP will further damage our industries,” United Broiler Raisers Association President Elias Jose M. Inciong said.

“This agreement favors importers, not our local producers. The mentality of our economists is that we can always import. As far as I’m concerned, we are on dangerous ground,” he added.

Association of Fresh Fish Traders of the Philippines President Roderic C. Santos said that the fishing and aquaculture sector were not consulted on the trade agreement.

“It came as a surprise. We didn’t get to monitor the passage of this agreement. RCEP does not favor local production, it favors products from other countries,” Mr. Santos said.

He said that counterpart industries in other RCEP countries are subsidized, which he does not expect the Philippines to match.

“They receive billions of dollars in support. They are supplied with free water, machines, fuel, boats, and the like. India allocates $50 billion for its farmers. They protect their local industries. Here, it is only cash and food distribution… If we want to be part of RCEP, we have to prepare. We have to know what we’re getting into. This is how we can protect local producers,” he added.

The groups urged the Senate to reject RCEP, claiming that the country is ill-equipped and will likely suffer from the arrangement.

“We are unprepared. We have been appealing to government to prioritize our local producers. It is hard for us to compete against foreign imports. It’s all one-sided and our industries are struggling. We have to strive for self-sufficiency when it comes to food. It is dangerous to rely on imported products. If there is a shortage, what will happen to us?” Mr. Tan of the hog farmers’ association said. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson