Gov’t urged to get its trade act together, create unified office

By Ronnel W. Domingo
Published in the August 2, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A GROUP OF FAIR TRADE ADVOCATES yesterday renewed calls for the creation of a Trade Representative’s office, saying this would unify trade negotiation functions currently spread over various agencies.

“Right now agencies like the departments of foreign affairs, trade and industry and agriculture, as well as the National Economic and Development Authority, all have negotiating authority and all are involved in talks such as those in the World Trade Organization,” said Rene Ofreneo co-convenor of the Fair Trade Alliance.

This makes it hard for [advocates] to air grievances and campaign for certain thrusts regarding trade talks. In the present set up campaigns are done through protests.”

FTA groups nongovernment organizations manufacturers and other inter est groups, like those in the agriculture and fisheries sector.

Ofreneo said the FTA was supporting moves in the House of Representatives for the passage of a law that provides for the creation of the Office of Trade Representative.

He said Representatives Lorenzo R. Tañada III, Ronaldo Zamora and others have already filed a bill regarding the matter.

House Bill No 4798, which was filed late in 2005, has yet to reach third reading in the chamber.

The bill was filed in the wake of the advocates’ failed attempts to compel trade negotiators to disclose the contents of the proposed Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement, which paves the way for a free trade pact.

Ofreneo explained that with the creation of a Trade Representative’s Office, the government would be establishing a single body that would be responsible, accountable and transparent while strengthening the Philippine position in negotiations.

“It’s like the American Trade Representative or the European Union’s Trade Commissioner—they provide a strong, unified position despite a wide range of interests being represented,” he said.

Ofreneo said the need for such an office became more urgent after the collapse of the WTO Doha Development Round when officials of six leading economies failed to come up with an agreement regarding market access and export subsidies.

In a prepared statement, FTA said the WTO talks failed because rich countries insisted on opening up the markets of developing countries without reducing or phasing out their own subsidies to agricultural exporters non tariff barriers to trade and their monopoly of technology.”

The group said that the Philippine government needs to correct the “past mistakes of liberalization,” and work with other developing countries in pushing for reforms in the global trading system.

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