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Benguet farmers still wary of veggie imports

Philippine Daily Inquirer

May 4, 2005

Benguet farmers still wary of veggie imports

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet-Provincial officials heaved a sigh of relief when a Philippine-China trade agreement, which covered vegetables and other items, was not one of the documents signed during last week’s visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the country.

But they remain skeptical that the signing of the bilateral trade agreement will push through. They fear that backroom negotiations are going on between Philippine and Chinese trade and agriculture officials.

They said the administration is bound to have the agreement signed since President Macapagal-Arroyo now feels politically indebted to the Chinese government after Hu approved loans worth $1.6 billion to fund infrastructure and mining projects in the Philippines.

Gov. Borromeo Melchor and provincial board member John Kim attributed the deferment of the trade pact’s approval to the failure of the agriculture department to get the endorsement of farmers on the controversial pest risk analysis (PRA) on carrots conducted by the Bureau of Plant Industry.

The BPI received a lot of flak when it recommended the importation of Chinese carrots despite detecting 12 pests and nine diseases in its PRA.

Plant experts at the Benguet State University questioned the PRA, saying the entry of such pests and diseases would endanger the country’s agricultural ecosystem.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Kim said, officially announced the scrapping of the PRA during last week’s National Vegetable Congress held in Cebu City.

"There will be no PRA to be approved unless a new one is conducted by BPI, together with representatives of farmers, stakeholders, non-government organizations and experts from different research and academic institutions," Kim quoted Yap as saying.

Melchor said the province must remain vigilant despite Yap’s pronouncement of a new PRA.

"Let us see if a new PRA will really be conducted," he said. "We hope that Yap was sincere when he said that a multisectoral group would be assembled to study carrot importation."

Kim shared Melchor’s sentiments. Although the bilateral trade agreement was not signed, he said he knew that Philippine and Chinese agricultural experts would work overtime to have the pact approved.

"The flow of investments and loans promised during Hu’s visit will create a political pressure on our government to reciprocate," he said.

Allowing the entry of Chinese carrots into the local market to be justified by the bilateral trade agreement would just be too tempting as a payback, Kim said.

He added that judging from several memorandums of understanding signed last week by Trade Secretary Juan Santos and Chinese Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai, the groundwork for the eventual signing of the bilateral trade agreement was already in place.

Reports said the two officials signed documents focusing on trade and investment cooperation. The packages include exploring potential exchanges in agriculture, quarantine, sanitary standards, conformity assessment and intellectual property rights.

The areas mentioned in the documents will necessarily cover carrots and other vegetables in future agreements on importation.

Delmar Cariño, PDI Northern Luzon Bureau

 source: PDI