Manila Bulletin | October 17, 2011
Comprehensive PJEPA FTA review pushed
By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is expected to call for a comprehensive review of its free trade agreement with Japan to put the country in a better position, but such move should not be in conflict with Japan’s stance that the review should only focus on further liberalizing this bilateral trade agreement.
An industry official said this as the government prepares its position for the December review of the Philippines Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJEPA).
Already, an inter-agency meeting is scheduled on October 19 to assess whether the country has benefitted from the PJEPA or been disadvantaged. This is in preparation for the meetings of the three subcommittees on trade in goods, investments and rules of origin to be held in Japan on October 26 and 27. Under the PJEPA, both partners are slated to conduct a review of the agreement five years after it was signed or by December 2011.
The discussion now is on whether to conduct a big R review, meaning comprehensive, or a small R review, an industry official said.
"The Philippines wants a big R review or comprehensive review while Japan just wants very minimal mainly to focus on further making the agreement more liberal," the official said.
The Philippine industry official said there is a need for a comprehensive review to correct some lopsided provisions.
The problem, however, with the big R review is it might require Senate ratification because the entire treaty was amended while a small R review may no longer need a Senate action, which could further delay the process.
On trade and goods, the industry official said the Philippines appeared to be at a disadvantage because Japan has been exporting more to the Philippines than imports.
On investments, the source noted that the promised Japanese investments did not also materialize.
"They did not invest as much as they have promised. The investments inflow from Japan was not enough," the industry leader said. He, however, did not provide exact figure.
The inter-agency committee on rules of origin shall tackle the issue of tariffs.
The source said that the Philippines has been disadvantaged especially in agricultural exports.
Aside from the economic issues, the Philippines would also like to incorporate in the PJEPA text the "side letter", which was crafted by the Senate before it ratified the treaty.
The side letter concerns over the treatment of industrial wastes by Japanese firms.
There is also a clear issue on the provision on the movement of natural persons since the Japanese commitment to hire Filipino nurses and caregivers has been hampered by stringent Japanese standards and language barrier.
Consultations conducted by the DTI with various stakeholders also called for a thorough review of the PJEPA, the country’s first and only bilateral FTA, because industries feel the country did not benefit from the FTA as it should.
PJEPA, which was entered into force in December 11, 2008, covers trade in goods, services, investments, movement of natural persons, intellectual property, customs procedures, improvement of business environment, and government procurement.
Under Article 161 of the PJEPA, a general review will be conducted in December 2011. This was agreed by both countries during the 3rd Joint Committee Meeting in Tokyo earlier this year.
Undersecretary for International Trade Adrian S. Cristobal Jr. said earlier said there have been issues and concrete proposals from those affected by the PJEPA.
“While our numbers, over the past three years, show progress in terms of trade, there will always be room for improvement,” said Cristobal.
The PJEPA consultation covered the areas of Agricultural Goods, Non-agricultural Goods, Investments, and Movement of Natural Persons Nurses and Careworkers.
During the “One Country, One Voice” PJEPA consultation in Manila wherein over 150 stakeholders attended, several groups called for a review of the existing requirements for Filipino nurses entering Japan.
Some of the proposals from the “One Country, One Voice” consultation included replacing certain difficult Japanese expressions with easier words, creating a standard working contract, and a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries to conduct the language training and improve the working conditions of Filipino nurses in Japan.
Founding president of “Ang Nars” Dr. Leah Samaco-Paquiz said, “There has to be a way to provide assistance to Filipino nurses who do not pass Japan’s licensure exam. Some are forced to take nurse assistant positions whose allowance is below the estimated living costs in Japan.”
To date, nurse applicants in Japan are provided $400 training allowance and once they pass the Japanese board exam, they get an offer of employment of $900-$2,400, which is the range of a typical entry level salary in hospitals or training facilities in Japan.
The aging population of Japan is a good opportunity for the increasing number of underemployed or unemployed Filipino nurses in the country.
According to the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC), at least 287,000 previous nursing board passers remain underemployed. The latest batch of 37,513 nursing board exam passers comprises 13 percent of the population of currently underemployed nurses.