Group urges JPEPA renegotiation

By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Published in the November 14, 2007 issue of the Manila Bulletin

As the Senate winds up its hearings on the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement, the multi-sectoral Fair Trade Alliance has urged the government to initiate for renegotiation of the comprehensive trade deal even before the Senate vote to ratify or reject the controversial trade agreement.

Fair Trade lead convenor Wigberto Tañada made this appeal to the government as the Senate is expected to vote for a conditional concurrence or a supplemental agreement to the already signed trade deal.

Tañada noted that contrary to what the Department of Trade and Industry has been espousing that a renegotiation is not an option for Senate to do other than ratifying the trade deal or reject it all together.

“According to the rules, the Senate can debate and amend once a bilateral deal has been submitted to them for ratification purposes. However, the Philippine Senate tradition has been “yes” or “no” only when in fact it has other options,” Tañada said.

The Senate may opt for conditional concurrence or passed a supplemental agreement. In both cases, a renegotiation is called for, Tañada said.

FairTrade expects the Senate to conclude the consultations by voting for a renegotiation of the JPEPA.

“Renegotiation is the only viable solution to cure the inherent imbalances of this treaty and become acceptable to Filipinos. There is no way to go but to renegotiate JPEPA,” he stressed.

More sectors in the society have found loopholes in the agreement during the past six hearings conducted by the Senate.

One of them is that it runs counter with the Philippine Constitution.

“If we want to trade with Japan, we should trade in a fair and respectable manner, which respects the limitations of the Constitution.” Tañada said.

FairTrade is also quoting a letter by Former Justice Florentino P. Feliciano to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the committee on Foreign Relations, that it is strongly doubtful that JPEPA will pass the test of the Constitution.

“It is respectfully suggested that the amendments to the JPEPA be set out in a supplemental agreement and attached to the original JPEPA, signed by the Republic of the Philippines and Japan and approved and concurred in by the Senate at the same time that the original JPEPA is approved an concurred in,” Feliciano said.

On the other hand, business groups are saying that JPEPA will expand and open new markets for Filipino manufacturing exports, especially garments, electronics, auto and auto parts, and furniture.

“But these exports are already being exported to Japan whether there is JPEPA or not. As of now, around 90 percent of Philippine exports to Japan are already enjoying duty-free entry to the Japanese markets. So what new Japanese markets are we talking about?”Tañada asked.

“The government negotiators and the proponents of JPEPA are misleading the public about the benefits of JPEPA. What is real is the danger that some industries will collapse and many jobs will be lost because of JPEPA,” Tañada continued.

The Automotive Industry Workers Alliance or AIWA, already expressed its concern over JPEPA because the entry of secondhand vehicles, that is being allowed by the treaty, could dislocate 77,000 jobs in their industry.

The steel and iron industry has also expressed the same discomfort on JPEPA because the flooding of steel imports could threaten the viability of their industry. The hundreds of thousands of jobs in the garments and textile industry could be in threat with the entry of ukayukay garments, which is also being permitted under JPEPA.

“All of these show the unevenness and unfairness of JPEPA to the Philippine domestic industry and we are happy that an increasing number of senators are now clearly seeing the huge imbalances of JPEPA, its unconstitutionality, and its empty promises of new markets and new investments, which the government negotiators and the proJPEPA are crowing about and we hope that in the end the senators will vote for the renegotiation of JPEPA, which FairTrade thinks is the best thing to do for the nation,” Tañada added.

“Lastly, this lop-sided agreement must not be repeated. Trade negotiators must be held strictly accountable for their mistakes, which have, unfortunately, created this big JPEPA fiasco,” Tañada said.

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