Non-governmental organizations have urged the Senate not to rush the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) especially that the COVID-19 scenario was not yet considered in the mega trade deal.

Representatives from various NGOs involved in labor, health, and education, were unanimous in asking the Senate committee on foreign affairs chaired by Senator Koko Pimental “not to rush” and for the Senate to conduct more studies because the treaty needs further diligence studies and scrutiny.

Trade Justice Pilipinas representative Joseph Purugganan urged the Senate to take the time in scrutinizing the RCEP and not to rush these hearings especially under these extraordinary times rife with uncertainties. The government needs greater flexibility to utilize the necessary policy tools to respond to the continuing challenges brought about by the COVID-19.”

He called on government to exercise due diligence citing India, who backed out from the deal because its studies showed RCEP would result in worsening its trade deficit with China.

Last year, he said, Trade Justice Pilipinas together with other groups calling on trade ministers and the WTO to stop all trade and investment treaty negotiations during the COVID 19.

According to Purugganan, the Philippines will lose market access of around $260 million or P13 billion under RCEP.

He urged the Department of Trade and Industry to explain to the Senate how it plans to address the further deterioration of the country’s trade balance.

“Exercising due diligence is also important in order to ensure that public interest is protected at all times, but most especially in times of crisis and emergency,” he said.

Joshua Mata of Centro Labor Center raised the impact of the RCEP on labor as it affects micro small and medium enterprises.

He stressed that MSMEs do not even know the various free trade agreements being entered into by the Philippines.

“We should find more time to review this (RCEP),” he said as he pointed out that RCEP was negotiated for 8 eights behind closed doors.

DTI Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty admitted though that trade negotiations are confidential and such confidentiality has been affirmed by the Supreme Court in previous cases.

Representatives from the Labor, Education and Research network Rolly Joseph Castillo questioned the growth scenario in RCEP studies stressing this did not consider the COVID scenario.

He said that if the COVID-19 included is included it will affect the economic growth assumptions of the mega trade deal.

As such, he urged Senate not to rush the RCEP deal as it did not consider the COVID scenario, which if included will affect the economic growth assumptions of the mega trade deal.

“We really urge the Senate to conduct further studies on the performance and do not rush the ratification,” he said.

Ana Maria Nemenzo, National Coordinator of WomanHealth Philippines, also focused on health which she said has not been part of RCEP. She pointed out that rich countries are very reluctant to share their patent rights on vaccines with poor countries.

In all these trade negotiations, she stressed, one of things being pushed by rich countries is protection of intellectual property rights and yet the pandemic has shown some loosening for protection of patent rights.

Nemenzo would like the government to give explanation as to how RCEP can help in the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law in the country, how will RCEP address the insufficiency of vaccines, how will RCEP enable local manufacturing of vaccines, and the role of the Department of Health in the deal.

Source: Manila Bulletin (