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Panel hears pros, cons on RCEP anew as senators inch closer to ratification

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THE Senate on Friday inched closer to a plenary vote to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) formalizing Philippine entry to the global trade pact.

At a marathon hearing Friday of the Committee on Foreign Relations presided by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, administration officials endorsing RCEP were asked to commit assurance of support to affected sectors given its impact on local traders.

Speaking for the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Ruben Pascual conveyed to the senators the PCCI’s 30,000-member companies endorsed RCEP ratification.

“The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry [PCCI] supports accession to RCEP,” Pascual assured senators, adding: “we cannot miss this opportunity for local businesses to be part of the global market.”

While disputing claims that gains from RCEP are “marginal,” he also  acknowledged the affected sectors “fears of losing out” in the competition, but stressed that they would in the final analysis be eventual losers “if we don’t do anything…and not face challenges in the world market.”

Airing concern that an “inward looking attitude” in the past made local business lose out, Pascual warned, “we cannot afford to be in that mode again.”

The PCCI official stressed: “We must fight for the producer goods that have high potential,” reminding that “the way to go is not to avoid the world market.”

However, Norbert Chingcuanco, Tugon Kabuhayan spokesman, expressed   deep apprehension over  the impact of liberalizing fisheries products that not only hurt local producers—noting that 1.9 million are listed as registered fisherfolk—but also expose Filipinos to very serious health risks, given the laxity in checking imported fresh seafood.

He also noted that, “We are self-sufficient in bangus and tilapia,” and wondered aloud why tariffs were being knocked down “to import these fish? I just can’t reconcile it.”

Chingcuanco compared RCEP to Covid-19, which “poses dangers to our health.” RCEP, on the other hand, poses a “threat to our livelihood, and, therefore, a threat to our health.”

‘With or without us’

Also on Friday, Sen. Imee Marcos, who chairs the Economic Affairs panel, pointed out that RCEP takes effect on January 1, 2022, “with or without us” and both government and affected sectors have very little leeway to resolve the issues.

At the hearing, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez reiterated his plea to the farm sector to give RCEP a chance to work, while assuring them that it will benefit them by way of expanded opportunities for market and income growth.

Earlier in the week, the trade department had warned that the local agriculture industry, in opposing RCEP, risks missing out on prospects in the worldwide trade pact.

In a virtual event Wednesday, Lopez said the RCEP, accounting for about 30 percent of the global GDP, provides the agriculture sector “good market” access for their products.

He added:  “Some agriculture groups are opposing the RCEP and I think that is very inward looking. What they would miss is the opportunity to tap the market abroad,” warning “inputs to agriculture will be affected.”

In a recent position paper, representatives of farmers, fishers, workers, civil society organizations and private sector had said they were against the ratification of RCEP (Read related article: Position Paper on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Trade Agreement,https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/11/16/position-paper-on-the-regional-comprehensive-economic-partnership-trade-agreement/)

They said that the trade deal was finalized without consultations with the agri-fisheries stakeholders and now, there is “no more opportunity” to possibly suggest revisions.

In addition, the farm representatives said no “clear and consistent basis for classifying agricultural tariff lines” is provided.

“Joining RCEP now means that 75 percent of our 1,718 agricultural tariff lines will be set at zero. About 15 percent of tariff lines will be subjected to tariff reduction, while 9 percent will be exempted from any tariff change,” they said.

Meanwhile, Lopez reiterated their call for the Senate to ratify the RCEP. This not only grants the country greater market access but it also makes it more attractive for investments, he explained.

“Companies from non-RCEP countries will locate in our country to be part of this global value chain, especially the RCEP chain. And definitely, it will boost investment, it will boost more jobs and provide more income for the Filipinos,” he said.

The trade deal is set to enter into force by January next year after meeting the minimum number of ratification by signatories. As of this writing, the Asean Secretariat said that Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand sent their Instrument of Ratification/Acceptance (IOR/A).

The Philippines, along with Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and South Korea, have yet to submit their IOR/A.

Lopez earlier expressed hope the Senate would ratify RCEP this month.

The signatories will not be able to reap the benefits of the trade agreement without the ratification, he noted.

RCEP was signed in November 2020.

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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