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Gov't must ensure programs for agri sector if RCEP will be ratified — Poe, Binay

The government must ensure that the agriculture sector will get adequate funding support if the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be ratified, Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay said Thursday.

In an interview, Senator Grace Poe mentioned the concerns of the local farmers on the trade accord but she noted that RCEP will allow the Philippines to import and export without tariffs and it will lower the prices of fertilizers.

"Ang ating mga magsasaka ay nagdadalawang-isip diyan at kabado dahil paano nga pala sila makakapagkumpetensiya kung hindi sila tinutulungan ng Department of Agriculture," she said.

(Our farmers are having second thoughts and afraid because how can they be competitive if the Department of Agriculture will not help them.)

"Habang ginagawa natin ito [RCEP], kailangan ang Department of Agriculture ay bumuhos ng pera sa ating mga magsasaka para makapagkumpetensya sila," she emphasized.

(While we are studying this, the Department of Agriculture should put more funds for our farmers to ensure that they will be competitive.)

Among the necessities that the DA should focus on is the establishment of cold storage facilities to ensure that small farmers can keep their harvests.

"Ang dami nating ani, nabubulok lang kasi nga ang malalaking cartel ang may-ari o kaya nagrerenta kaagad ng cold storage facilities. Dapat ang gobyerno natin gumawa niyan para ang maliliit na magsasaka ay mabenta ang kanilang mga produkto na hindi nabubulok," Poe suggested.

(The produce of our farmers are more than enough but end up rotten because the big cartels owns or rents the cold storage facilities. The government should address this to allow farmers to sell their produce.)

"'Yan ang dapat na pagtuunan ng pansin ng Department of Agriculture at hindi tayo papayag sa RCEP na 'yan hangga't walang programa ang DA kung ano ang gagawin nila in the next 10 or 20 years," she added.

(The Department of Agriculture should prioritize this kind of programs and we should not agree with the ratification of RCEP if the DA will not present a plan for the sector in the next 10 or 20 years.)

The senator explained that RCEP will not immediately take effect as there will be a period which will be given to all sectors to prepare for its implementation.

Meanwhile, Binay said ratifying RCEP would give more market opportunities and benefits to the Philippines but this should not be rushed because there are still some "contentious issues" from several essential sectors.

"Ang pinakaimportante, what we need to know is our readiness for RCEP, and if we have already prepared parallel programs for the labor sector, and subsidies in the agri and production sectors," Binay said.

"Hintayin muna natin pakinggan ang contentious issues sa ilang essential sectors, at kung kailan ito isasalang sa plenaryo para mahimay talaga ang mga katanungan, at mapaghandaan din ng mga ahensya at ibang sektor ang transition. Maipasa man ito on time o hindi, magtutuloy-tuloy pa rin naman ang RCEP, with or without the Philippines," she added.

(Let us wait for the contentious issues to be raised by several essential sectors, its deliberations on the plenary so we can debate on it in detail, and for the different agencies and sectors to prepare for its transition. The RCEP will still push through in other countries with or without the Philippines.)

During the hearing on RCEP last Tuesday, poultry and agriculture producers asked the government to give a “clear path for development” for their sectors before the ratification of the treaty.

On the same day, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said he expects the chamber to ratify the trade accord within this month.

This, despite the reservations coming from his colleagues , particularly Senator Imee Marcos, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s sister.

Senator Marcos was supposed to lead the hearings on the RCEP as chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, but the Senate formed a subcommittee headed by Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda to tackle the treaty.

In a statement, Senator Marcos explained that she does not want to lead the RCEP hearings because there is a "force" that pushes the Senate to expedite its ratification.

Recently, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) released a statement indicating that President Marcos is pushing for the ratification of the free trade agreement.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement first floated in August 2012, covering members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its partners Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Before he assumed office, the President had expressed his reservations about the RCEP, saying he wanted to look at how it would impact the country’s agriculture sector.—AOL, GMA Integrated News