The opposition coming from the farmers’ groups against the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has intensified, with as many as 45 groups with thousands of members combined claiming they were not consulted about the Philippines’ commitments on the treaty as far as the agriculture sector is concerned.


“The RCEP agreement, including its legal text and schedule of Philippine commitments, was finalized without consulting agri-fisheries stakeholders, many of whom are directly affected by the treaty’s trade rules and concessions,” Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Montemayor said in a position paper.

“Moreover, no more opportunity exists today to modify our commitments or the legal text of the agreement. We therefore call upon the Senate to reject RCEP and withhold its concurrence,” he added.

Aside from Montemayor, the positioned paper was signed by representatives of at least 44 more farmers’ groups, including United Broiler Association (UBRA) President Elias Jose Inciong, Philippine Maize Federation (Philmaize) President Roger Navarro, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Chairperson Danilo Ramos, Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines, Inc. President Nicanor Briones, Alyansa Agrikultura Chairperson Ernesto Ordonez, among others.

“We, the undersigned representatives of farmers, fishers, workers, civil society organizations and the private sector – unanimously oppose the ratification of the RCEP trade agreement and urge the Senate to withhold its concurrence on the treaty,” the groups said.

The groups are also demanding the lawmakers to send a “strong and unequivocal message” to the Executive to observe the constitutional mandate on stakeholders’ right to effective consultation and to thoroughly review the country’s commitments under RCEP.

According to the groups, joining RCEP now means that 75 percent of the country’s 1,718 agricultural tariff lines will be set at zero. Then about 15 percent of tariff lines will be subjected to tariff reduction, while 9 percent will be exempted from any tariff change.

More worrisome are proposed RCEP rules that will significantly hamper the application and effectiveness of trade remedies, the groups said.

These measures, such as safeguard duties, will be the only legal recourse to address import surges and other problems engendered by freer trade under RCEP. Any form of quantitative restriction (QR) – like suspending sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) import clearances during harvest periods – is strongly discouraged by RCEP and is also prohibited by the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), although World Trade Organization (WTO) rules allow for temporary QR imposition under certain critical situations.

RCEP also limits the allowable safeguard duty to the difference between a country’s applied most favored nation (MFN) tariff at any point during RCEP implementation and the RCEP tariff in effect when the safeguard remedy is invoked.

For example, if the applied MFN tariff for a product is 35 percent, and the country’s tariff commitment under RCEP is down to 25 percent when an import surge occurs, the country can only impose a safeguard duty not exceeding 10 percent. Hence, sensitive products like rice, corn, and some fishery and livestock products – to be exempted from any tariff reduction under RCEP – might be deprived of any safeguard protection, since their tariff at any time during RCEP implementation could already equal their applied MFN tariff.

The groups pointed out that this is a big departure from WTO rules, which permit the levying of any remedial duty necessary to prevent or rectify serious injury to a particular sector. Additionally, imports from least developed countries (LDCs) – such as Myanmar, Cambodia and possibly Vietnam – cannot be subjected to safeguard duties under RCEP rules. No such exemption exists under WTO rules.

“We will never gain from RCEP and similar arrangements unless we establish, fund and implement dedicated and sustained programs to boost the competitiveness and profitability of our farmers, fishers, traders, processors and exporters. It is also nonsensical to push for RCEP membership when the benefits from this ‘good agreement’ are essentially theoretical or imagined, whereas its dangers are real and proven by previous experience,” the groups said.

“There is no urgency in joining RCEP today. We can always join later, when we have adequately understood the treaty’s ramifications and are ready to use RCEP membership to our advantage. Trade is not a race of countries to a finish line. Ultimately, trade is only a means to elevate people’s lives. Governments must thus exercise care and deliberation, so that trade agreements deliver on their promises, while minimizing harm to vulnerable sectors of society,” they added.

Source: Manila Bulletin (