Letter to DA Sec. Arthur Yap in support of the Benguet Vegetable Industry

February 27, 2007

HON. ARTHUR C. YAP
Secretary
Department of Agriculture (DA)

Dear Sec. Yap,

The multisectoral Fair Trade Alliance (FairTrade), a broad coalition pushing for trade and economic reforms supports the petition of the Benguet local government unit and the stakeholders of the vegetable industry to halt the approval of the Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) of Chinese carrots and immediately stop the importation of said crop from the People’s Republic of China.

As you are well aware of, the province of Benguet is known as the salad bowl of the Philippines producing highland vegetables such as cabbage, celery, cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli, snap beans, garden peas, bell pepper, potato and carrots. Other agricultural-related activities are monggo processing, fruit preservation, peanut brittle manufacturing, broom making, basket weaving, and flower growing. It is the province that has the biggest stake in carrots production and will bear the brunt in case the national government allows importation and entry to domestic markets of disease-ridden Chinese carrots.

Benguet produced 25,963 metric tons of carrots or roughly 75% of total country production in 2000. The province also allotted the utmost hectarage for carrots production at approximately 1,600 hectares or 46.86% with a high yield of 16.23 tons/hectare1. Yield increased to 51,294 metric tons while hectarage of harvested area went up to 2,835.49 hectares in 20022.

Almost all of the produced carrots (48,030 MT) were sold either at the La Trinidad Trading Post, Hangar and Bambang markets and distributed in major high end and wet markets in Luzon. On the same year, we had a surplus production of 3,264 metric tons which increased years thereafter when programs to boost cropping intensity and enlarged hectarage for carrots production were implemented.

Total job generated was 11,857 in 2005 and has been steadily increasing since 2003. The LGU and stakeholders are addressing gaps from pre-production to market support development and have institutionalized mechanisms to ensure that targets will be reached on schedule.

In this light, we wish to bring to your attention Resolution Nos. 06-346 and 06-356 of the Office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Province of Benguet and Govenor Borromeo P. Melchor’s letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo dated February 27, 2007.

Resolution No. 06-346 dated December 11, 2006 stated a request that the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) defer the approval of the proposed administrative order for the importation of carrots from the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). The resolution also questioned the dubious completion and approval of the PRA for Chinese carrots. In addition, the local government unit of Benguet and the various stakeholders in the vegetable industry are asking the incorporation in any Administrative Order of conditions and safety measures, enumerated as follows:

  1. A comprehensive study of the economic implications of the importation of carrots;
  2. The strict identification of the source of the imported vegetables;
  3. The close coordination with the Bureau of Plan Industry (BPI) on the determination of the volume of vegetables to be imported;
  4. The importation should only be done during the lean months; and,
  5. The final draft of the Administrative Order on carrots shall be presented to local stakeholders prior to its approval.

On the otherhand, Resolution No. 06-356 signed a few days before Christmas of 2006 vehemently protested the haphazard process, methodology and approval of the PRA for Chinese carrots that took less than two (2) weeks. The PRA team, External Pool of Experts, and academe-experts from the Benguet State University (BSU) have already identified more than twelve (12) pests and diseases associated with said crop originating from PRC.

The governor of Benguet was also seeking the intervention of the President in ensuring that measures and appropriate actions have to be undertaken by the Office of the President, including but not limited to holding in-depth consultations with stakeholders, prior to any importation of carrots from PRC and the approval of the PRA.

Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) is defined under the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as the process of evaluating biological or other scientific and economic evidence to determine whether a pest should be regulated and the strength of any phytosanitary measures to be taken against it3. Pest Risk Assessment is one of the three stages of Pest Risk Analysis which was crafted to help countries in the identification of a pathway that presents a potential pest hazard to domestic producers, environment and economy, the identification of a pest that may require measures, and for purposes of revising or upgrading phytosanitary policies and priorities. Afterwhich, comes the determination of identified pests, to be quarantined and characterized in terms of likelihood of entry, establishment, spread, economic importance and implication to rural producers, specific area, to human life, plant, and animals. The final determinant is the country’s capacity to manage pest risk – developing, evaluating, comparing and selecting options for dealing with the risk.

These international standards are of utmost importance to the Philippines which has been a net importing country for quite sometime and so its phytosanitary measures are long overdue for review and updating. The possibility of pest entry and harm is most likelihood to happen through various pathways, unguarded ports of entry, and lack of personnel specializing in this field.

PRA is area-specific and pest-specific. In Benguet’s Resolution No. 06-365, it was mentioned that the PRA and EPE teams, and experts from BSU have identified more than twelve pest and diseases associated with PRC’s carrots categorized as high, moderate, and low. The United States uses the risk rating for consequences of introduction, risk rating for likelihood of introduction, and pest risk potential before entry of new products4. England and the rest of the European Community would take precautionary approach which means none entry of a specific good in case there is a wide range of uncertainty. It is even a grave offense under Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 for any person to release or allow to escape, deliberate or unintentionally, into the wild any animal which is not indigenous to the country.

Moreso, Australia, a country that we’ve been in loggerheads with since 2002 on the stiff rules imposed on the importation into Australia of Philippine fresh fruits and vegetables has been getting away with its own interpretation on the international guidelines for PRA and Import Risk Analyses (IRA). In fact, the Philippines filed a case with the WTO questioning Australia’s inconsistency with its obligations under the GATT 1994, the Licensing Agreement, and the SPS Agreement5. Australia’s abuse in interpreting the four (4) remaining steps stated in the IPPC International Standard for Phytosanitay Measures (ISPM 11) coined ‘likelihood’. For them, ‘this simply reflects the fact that likelihood is often the foremost in the mind when assessing risk which is more correctly a function of the likelihood of an event, and the outcome of that event’6.

The bottom line is that right now there is unfairness and unjustness in international trade, and so the Philippine government must defend its local producers. FairTrade reiterates its support to the petition of Benguet local government and vegetable stakeholders to halt the approval of the Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) of Chinese carrots and immediately stop the importation of said crop from the People’s Republic of China. There is a need to review existing agreements with the PRC which are highly unequal and one-sided. A review and upgrading of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures of the country is also urgently called for. Please see attached resolutions and letter to the President.

We await your immediate response and pray for your favorable action on the request of our vegetable farmers from Benguet.

Yours,

Original signed
WIGBERTO E. TAÑADA
Lead Convenor

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