The Philippine negotiating team for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) said they have excluded several agricultural products, including rice, from the list of products to be liberalized under the mega free trade deal.

Trade and Industry Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty, who is also the Philippines’ lead negotiator at RCEP, emphasized amid claims by farmers that the local agriculture sector will be at a disadvantaged under the agreement.

“The negotiating team has always been mindful of the sensitivities of the agriculture sector,” said Gepty amid cries from the agriculture sector that Filipino farmers will be at a disadvantaged under RCEP.

“This is the reason behind agricultural products being listed under the country’s exclusion list for all FTA Partners in RC,” said Gepty at the 2nd hearing on the ratification of RCEP by the Senate committee on foreign relations presided by chairman Sen. Koko Pimentel.

The excluded agricultural products include rice, corn, sugar, pork, chicken, sugar, highland vegetables, coffee bean not decaffeinated, and other processed meat, among others. “We heeded the concerns raised by our stakeholders on the need to retain the tariffs on these products,” he said.

In fact, the DTI, together with other lead government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, said that the Philippines was able to secure flexibility for agricultural products and improved market access for select products from RCEP partners such as Japan and Korea.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Noel Padre of the Department of Agriculture stressed, “The Philippines’ additional tariff lines committed is only marginal compared to what was already made under existing ASEAN Plus One FTAs. Nonetheless, the concessions we gained show higher market access improvements from trading partners such as Korea and Japan.”

Farmers and non-governmental organizations said they were not consulted about RCEP and even urged the Senate not to rush the RCEP ratification, as they called for further review of the agreement and consultations.

Gepty, however, said the DTI conducted at least 19 consultations domestically and 14 regional engagements with RCEP countries. This is in addition to the public hearings conducted by the Tariff Commission since 2015.

“We undertook consultations on RCEP as early as when negotiations started in 2013,” added Gepty.

The negotiators also responded to the concerns raised by trade and health advocacy groups of the RCEP severely constraining policy space and the lack of consultations to effectively address labor issues, as well as ongoing health and economic crisis.

“While the RCEP Agreement does not have provisions on labor standards and practices, the Philippines and many of the RCEP parties remain signatories to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions that set out basic principles and rights at work. Parties will continue to have recourse under these relevant agreements. Also, emerging issues in trade such as labor can be discussed by the Committee on Sustainable Growth once the RCEP agreement is implemented,” assured Gepty.

He also added: “The preambular statement of the RCEP Agreement recognizes the right of each Party to regulate in pursuit of legitimate public welfare objectives. In line with this, the policy space of each RCEP Party to adopt and implement measures to protect public health is maintained. In fact, Article XX of GATT 1994 has been incorporated in the RCEP Agreement.”

Government think tank Philippines Institute for Development Studies also undertook an ex-ante analysis for RCEP to look at possible scenarios and cost should the country decide to join or not join the RCEP.

In his findings, Dr. Caesar Cororaton cited the also added his findings on the expected benefits of RCEP in terms of generating a positive net trade balance and inducing poverty reduction. “Post-RCEP Philippine exports will increase faster than the increase in imports. The expanded market in RCEP will generate a positive net trade balance of 128.2 billion USD by 2031.”

“It is also expected that RCEP will reduce poverty in the country. In a 10-year simulation period, the Philippines’ poverty incidence would decline by 0.3 percent in the first year followed by further reduction of 1.73 percent and 5.0 percent in 2025 and in 2030 respectively, relative to the baseline,” he added.

The DTI is targeting the ratification of the RCEP by Senate this year so it can join RCEP on January 1, 2022.

To date, six ASEAN Member States: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, and four FTA Partners, namely: Australia, China, Japan and New Zealand, have deposited their respective Instruments of Ratification/Acceptance.

Source: Manila Bulletin (