RP needs trade czar with Cabinet rank, says solon

By Philip Tubeza
Published on the September 24, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITH rapid globalization, the Philippines should have a special office dedicated entirely to looking after the country’s international trade policy and trading relations, said a top House leader.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte urged the government to create an office of Chief Trade Negotiator, with Cabinet rank, as trade issues were far too important to be left to “ad hoc negotiators.”

“It has become absolutely imperative for us to invest in a permanent office that would concentrate solely on building up our trade negotiations and resolving [trade] disagreements with other countries,” Villafuerte said.

“We should aggressively use trade policy to purposely open new foreign markets for our products and services, and to create new opportunities for our industries as well as higher living standards for our farmers, fishermen and workers,” he said.

Villafuerte said the new office should draw up and execute a comprehensive, suitable and consistent trade policy in dealing with bilateral, regional and multilateral trade issues.

“Depending on how the issues are resolved, we may end up needlessly jeopardizing domestic industries and possibly throwing thousands of workers out of their jobs,” he warned.

Villafuerte said the new office could be patterned after the United States’ Office of the US Trade Representative, which is headed by an official with Cabinet rank.

The US trade representative coordinates trade policy, resolves disagreements and frames issues for the White House and serves as the US President’s principal trade advisor, negotiator and spokesperson.

“Over the years, the US Trade Representative’s office has developed institutional expertise. It even has a chief agricultural negotiator and commodity specialists who haggle and enforce agreements relating to US farm interests and products,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte, who chairs the House committee on fisheries and aquaculture, has been pushing for greater access of Philippine tuna in world markets.

The Fair Trade Alliance (FTA) group has also bewailed the Philippines’ lack of preparedness in bargaining on international trade issues.

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