FTA Statement on new EOs further reducing tariffs

Agricultural tariff cuts with China: A sneak attack on Filipino farmers

Wigberto E. Tanada, Lead Convenor

The issuance by Malacanang of Executive Orders 485 and 487 reducing tariffs on a whole range of agricultural goods is a sneak attack on Filipino farmers, directed in particular to our vegetable and fruit growers in the Cordillera, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions.

EO 485 sets the elimination of tariffs of 214 tariff lines to zero under the Early Harvest Program (EHP) starting January 1, 2006. On the other hand, EO 487 schedules the drastic tariff reduction of 1,124 tariff lines included in the Normal Track of the ASEAN-China FTA.

There were no effective and comprehensive consultations that were held. If there was then it is unfortunate that, against the persistent and relentless call of our local farmers and producers to delay the ratification of this free trade agreement until and unless the government will show its boldness to safeguard the interest, income and livelihood of our farmers, the Philippine government still pursued the Early Harvest with China.

It will be recalled that the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), the farmer groups in Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya and a number of civil societies and business associations expressed dismay over the decision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for member countries to conclude an ‘early harvest’ agreement on agriculture with China, preparatory to the holding of negotiations for a full-blown free-trade arrangement with this giant neighbor of ours. China is the single biggest source of dumped industrial and agricultural goods that are drowning our domestic market and are killing local producers. If there is any trade and economic agreement that should be concluded with China, it should be a normal bilateral one where China should be asked to make commitments to help the Philippines put an end to the flow of smuggled industrial and agricultural goods from Hong Kong and its southern coastlines.

In 2004, the government issued statements reassuring the nation that it was not prepared to conclude an ‘early harvest’ agreement with China. And yet, when Premier Hu Jintao visited the Philippines early last year, the government disclosed, months after, that an agreement was already signed.

In December last year, EO 485 was signed. And yet again, this was announced only a month after. The said EO was not subjected to scrutiny by local farmers’ groups, for no information on the draft EO was ever released. What transparency!

We, at the FTA, reiterate our position – our economic diplomacy with China should be focused on how to balance trade relations. We expect China to act as a good neighbor and to promote mutually-beneficial trading arrangements. It should also help the Philippines in cracking down on smuggling syndicates.

Our authority should also be strict on the entry of agricultural goods coming from China, which is the world’s second biggest user of the GMO technology. Up to now, Chinese farmers are still using the toxic DDT chemical, which has been banned worldwide. On top of this, the existing Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) is haphazardly done and therefore weak; thus, should be reviewed immediately and strengthened to stop the coming in of dumped and hazardous vegetable imports.

We also appeal to our government to stop this recklessness of pursuing free-trade arrangements with China and other countries without any consultation with the domestic producers and without a clear development framework in place. Trade should not be pursued for trade’s sake. Trade is an instrument for development, not a weapon of surrender. It should help preserve and promote jobs and businesses.

Finally, we ask Congress to assert its oversight function on trade negotiations and for the Senate to insist on its treaty-making authority. The early harvest with China and the succeeding free-trade arrangement being negotiated should be subject to Senate treaty ratification.

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