Palace warned: Renegotiate Jpepa or face rejection

By Max V. de Leon
Published in the November 14, 2007 issue of the Business Mirror

RENEGOTIATE the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa) now, rather than suffer the embarrassment of an impending defeat in the eyes of the public when the senators vote for its rejection.

This is the advice of the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA) to President Arroyo and the Jpepa proponents, as the group expressed confidence that it will get the needed number of senators to vote against the bilateral agreement come “judgment day.”

Rene Ofreneo, FTA coconvenor, said with the way the government is dismally defending the Jpepa in the Senate and with the number of “true-blue oppositionists” in the upper chamber, there is no way that Malacañang will get the needed 16 votes to get the economic-cooperation deal ratified.

“By deciding to renegotiate it [Jpepa] now and not wait for the actual voting in the Senate to happen, Malacañang will be able to save itself from embarrassment,” Ofreneo told the BusinessMirror Tuesday.

Ofreneo’s statements jibed with what Sen. Miriam Santiago, head of the Committee on Foreign Relations hearing the Jpepa ratification, earlier said that the senators will not ratify the agreement at its current form.

Santiago proposed that for the deal to pass the Senate, it should be beefed up with a supplemental agreement “because the treaty fails to make a reservation for future preferential, protective, or development measures over Japanese investments.”

The FTA said there is no way but to renegotiate the Jpepa “because in the past six hearings, the government negotiators were not able to justify the merits of the Jpepa.”

Ofreneo said the FTA and its allied civic groups are pushing for the government negotiating panel to incorporate the supplemental provisions being proposed by Justice Florentino P. Feliciano, who already submitted his expert opinion to the Senate and summarized the unconstitutional provisions in the Jpepa.

Also, Ofreneo said the Philippine negotiating team should correct the one-sided contents of the agreement’s economic provisions.

“For example, we should ask for more exclusion list, so we could protect more of our local industries from Japanese competition,” Ofreneo said.

The FTA also debunked the study of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry that at least four industries—garments, furniture, semiconductor and automotive—will become clear winners with the Jpepa, mainly because of the better access they will get to the Japanese market.

“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 market. So what new Japanese markets are we talking about,” the FTA said.

On the contrary, the FTA said the local industries will be suffering because the agreement allows the entry of used clothing (ukay-ukay) and automotive to the Philippines.

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