Japan deal: Ratify now, renegotiate later

By Fel V. Maragay
Published in the October 8, 2007 issue of the Manila Standard TODAY

Ratify the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement now; renegotiate later.

This was the response of the Arroyo administration to the option floated by some senators to renegotiate the terms of the proposed agreement that are considered as disadvantageous to the Philippines, especially with respect to the liberalized inflow of Japanese products and language proficiency and test requirements for Filipino nurses seeking employment in Japan.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila said the Senate should either ratify or reject the JPEPA but renegotiation is not an option right now.

However, Favila said the Philippines will be placed at a great disadvantage if the JPEPA is disapproved by the Senate because it will be deprived of the privilege to expand its agriculture and industrial exports to Japan without tariff.

At the same time, he said the Philippines’ share in the Japanese market may even be diminished in favor of other Southeast Asian countries that have already forged their own economic agreements with Japan like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The JPEPA can still be renegotiated but only after five years from ratification. The agreement provides that Japan and the Philippines may undertake a review of the JPEPA every five years “after the entry into force of this agreement and whenever agreed by the parties.”

Trade Undersecretary Thomas Aquino said the Philippines is courting economic disaster if the Senate will repudiate the agreement.

“Our only choice is to approve the agreement. If there will be changes or amendments that will correct the flaws in the agreement, there is a mechanism for that,” said Aquino, who was a key member of the government panel which negotiated the JPEPA with Tokyo for more than two years.

“If we cannot reach the first base, we cannot go to the second base and third base until the homerun. Besides, there is no such thing as a perfect treaty. This is made by men not by God.”

The Junk the JPEPA Coalition, the Fair Trade Alliance, Philippine Nursing Association and the GreenPeace International are among the organization urging the Senate to repudiate the bilateral treaty.

The Fair Trade Alliance said that the JPEPA does not really provide skilled Filipino workers access to the Japanese job market. PNA has criticized the stringent requirements for Filipino nurses to undergo a six-month training course in the Japanese language and to take the licensure examination given by Tokyo to qualify as full-fledged nurses. The GreenPeace International has warned that it would be difficult to control and stop the export of Japanese waste materials despite safeguards embodied in the treaty.

Aquino belied the criticisms that the government panel were remiss in protecting the rights of the Philippines in negotiating the terms of the JPEPA.

“We saw to it that the provisions, the terms and conditions that were incorporated into the agreement were doable. We were ambitious when we were negotiating. But we know the level of our ambition that was doable. We did not persist in putting what is not doable in the agreement because that would only create false expectations.”

Aquino said non-ratification of JPEPA means that “were are turning our back on the offer of a country which is in a position to help the Philippines improve its economic conditions.”

Trade and industry officials say that without JPEPA the country’s exports to Japan are projected to grow an average of 8.51 percent a year. But with JPEPA, exports will expand by 9.29 by 2008 and 16 percent by 2010.

They said that upon the effectivity of JPEPA, Japan will immediately remove the tariff on such farm and marine products as shrimps, prawns, asparagus, vegetables, dried bananas, guavas, mangos, mangosteen, papayas, coconut and copra, durian, rambutan, as well as manufactured goods like knitted and crocheted fabrics.

The ratification of JPEPA is also expected to increase the level of Japanese overseas development assistance to the Philippines, which in 2009 alone, reached $4.7 billion, or 49 percent of the total ODA received by the country from foreign sources.

The Senate committee on foreign relations, chaired by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, and committee on trade and commerce, chaired by Senator Mar Roxas, will resume public hearing on JPEPA this morning.

Invited to the hearing are retired Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano and former UP College of Law dean Merlyn Magallona, both experts in international law, who will expound constitutional issue affecting the JPEPA.

“Supposed the Senate concurs with the treaty, the oppositors might hypothetically bring a case to the Supreme Court. And supposed we lose it on constitutional grounds. That’s how important the constitutional issue is. It is the most basic of all issues. It’s unconstitutional, then there is no point debating all other issues,” Santiago said.


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