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NEDA chief: RCEP won’t hurt local agri sector

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan on Tuesday refuted claims that the mega trade deal Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will negatively impact the local agriculture sector.

"With regards to the allegation that the agricultural sector will be hurt, there's no truth to that… whether or not there is RCEP, we need to invest in agriculture. Kinakailangan nating ma-address ‘yung mga concerns,” Balisacan said during a Palace briefing.

Last week, Senator Imee Marcos insisted the RCEP will kill the local agriculture industry as she argued that the trade deal will “ravage the countryside and kill our farmers,” explaining why she did not sign the committee report on RCEP.

“‘Yung mga problema ngayon ng agriculture (The problems of agriculture sector) has nothing to do with RCEP. The problems were outcomes of past neglects of the sector,” the NEDA chief said.

Balisacan said that by ratifying RCEP, the country will be “even more forced to pay attention to agriculture because only then can you fully maximize the benefits that RCEP can give to us.”

The Department of Trade and Industry has since clarified that highly sensitive agricultural products for the Philippines are excluded from the country’s Schedule of Commitments, which means that these products are still protected by tariffs.

Some of these agricultural products include swine meat, poultry meat, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbages, sugar, carrots, and rice.

“It must be ratified. The future of our country depends so much on our ability to attract investors, particularly foreign capital because the domestic capital is not enough... By being a member, we are saying to the world that we are ready for business, we play the rules of the game well, and your investments are safe with us,” Balisacan said.

First floated in August 2012, the RCEP involves the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

It was approved by the previous administration in September 2021 and brought to the Senate for concurrence.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. stood firm on his push for the ratification of the Philippines participation in the RCEP, despite concerns about the regional mega free trade deal's effect on the local agriculture sector. 

The DTI expects the RCEP to generate a 10.47% increase in the country’s exports and a 2.02% increase in real gross domestic product.

The RCEP represents 50% of the global manufacturing output; 50% of the global automotive output; 70% of electronics; 26% of the global value chain (GVC) trade volume; 60% GVC for electrical/machinery, petroleum/chemicals, textiles/apparel, metal, and transport equipment, 35% of the contribution to global exports of electronics and machineries; and the main GVC hubs of big economies such as South Korea, Japan, and China. 

House Resolution 728

At the House of Representatives, its trade and industry panel on Tuesday adopted House Resolution 728 expressing support for immediate ratification of the RCEP free trade agreement among Asia Pacific countries.

"By immediately ratifying the RCEP agreement, the Philippines can sooner benefit and take the advantages of this mega-trade deal that could attract more foreign investors, create more job opportunities, and curb the unemployment and poverty rates in the country," Speaker Martin Romualdez, one of the authors of House Resolution 728, said in a statement.

Romualdez said the RCEP will address the overlapping bilateral free trade agreements that the Philippines entered into in the past, a practice that resulted in varying levels of commitment for tariff reduction and conflicting technical trade rules.

“The benefits that the RCEP Agreement will bring to the Philippines far outweigh the risk, as it will promote greater openness, create a more business-friendly environment, encourage closer integration of economies, and provide a more stable and predictable rules-based system of trade,” he said.

Romualdez also said that he expects the RCEP to integrate and optimize the economic and trade rules, as well as change the digital landscape that affects intellectual property rights, trade facilitation measures, electronic commerce, and cross-border trade. — with Llanesca T. Panti/RSJ, GMA Integrated News