Saturday, Aug. 25, 2007
Arroyo on FTA promo blitz but environmentalists worry
By DARIO AGNOTE
MANILA (Kyodo) — Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s team has begun a high-profile public relations blitz to urge the Senate to ratify a free-trade pact with Japan.
Arroyo’s team, which includes Philippine Ambassador to Japan Domingo Siazon, Trade Undersecretary Thomas Aquino and other senior officials from various government departments, has taken to television and radio to promote the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.
"Gearing up to make JPEPA a reality!" is the team’s slogan, stressing the pact is "a partnership on several fronts," from goods to services to investment to movement of people. "The agreement is designed to promote growth," Aquino said.
Already, the team has raised an alarm over the possible "losses" if the accord is not ratified.
Siazon, who flew home Aug. 12 to help in the media and lobbying campaign, expressed hope the Senate would ratify the pact "before or by the end of December."
"I’m quite confident in the ability of the (Philippines) to make it," he told a press briefing.
The Philippines has been under intense pressure to ratify the accord, which eliminates tariff on all goods and services traded between the two countries.
JPEPA, concluded last Sept. 9, has come under attack from environmentalists who claim the accord would allow the entry of toxic and hazardous wastes from Japan, and some senators and religious leaders have joined environmentalists in voicing alarm over the issue.
Arroyo’s team stresses the need to ratify the pact, saying it will benefit the cash-strapped Philippines and unfold opportunities to many Filipinos, especially nurses and caregivers, who wish to work in Japan.
Aquino, the Philippines’ key trade negotiator, voiced concern over what he calls "the Philippines without JPEPA."
"We have to get this thing going. We cannot be helpless," he said, warning the Philippines would be "left behind" by other Southeast Asian countries that have forged economic partnerships with Japan.
"Exports from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will enjoy preferential tariffs in Japan. If we don’t have the JPEPA, we will not get those benefits," he said.
Aquino said professional services opportunities in Japan will be opened to these countries but not to the Philippines "unless we have a JPEPA."
"Japanese outbound investments will flow to those countries with less market restriction, but not the Philippines," he said. "The economic partnership agreement is the way to the future. The agreement is designed to promote growth. It’s a pursuit of opportunity."
Siazon added: "Do I want out of this or do I want in?’ That’s the issue before the Senate."
Already, Siazon said, the Philippines and Japan have drawn up the guidelines for the dispatch of Filipino nurses and caregivers and those guidelines would be "immediately signed" as soon as the accord is ratified.
At least 400 nurses and 600 caregivers are waiting to be sent to Japan to study Japanese at no cost for six months so these workers can eventually work in Japan, he added.
"We are now in a trial mode. Actually, the first two batches will be an experiment, and once we see what happens, we will have to make some adjustments, and then we can talk about opening up the market," Siazon said.