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EOs imperil vegetable, fruit industries

ABS-CBN, Manila, 29 January 2006

EOs imperil vegetable, fruit industries

Angelo Samonte

The reduction of tariffs on wide range of agricultural products as mandated by Executive Orders 485 and 487 would impact on the country’s vegetable and fruit industries, a coalition of nongovernment organizations for the agriculture sector said.

EO 485 sets the elimination of tariffs of 214 tariff lines to zero under the Early Harvest Program (EHP) starting January 1, 2006. On the other hand, EO 487 schedules the drastic tariff reduction of 1,124 tariff lines included in the Normal Track of the ASEAN-China FTA.

The statement from the Fair Trade alliance said: "There was no comprehensive consultation that was held. If there was then it is unfortunate that, against the persistent and relentless call of our local farmers and producers to delay the ratification of this free-trade agreement until and unless the government will show its boldness to safeguard the interest, income and livelihood of our farmers, the Philippine government still pursued the Early Harvest with China."

The FTA said Filipino farmers from the Cordillera, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions would be hit the hardest with the implementation of the orders.

It will be recalled that the FTA, the farmer groups in Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya and a number of civil societies and business associations, expressed dismay over the decision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for member-countries to conclude an Early Harvest agreement on agriculture with China, in preparation to the holding of negotiations for a full-blown free-trade arrangement with China.

China is the single biggest source of dumped industrial and agricultural goods that are drowning the country’s domestic market and affecting local producers.

"If there is any trade and economic agreement that should be concluded with China, it should be a normal bilateral one where China should be asked to make commitments to help the Philippines put an end to the flow of smuggled industrial and agricultural goods from Hong Kong and its southern coastlines," the coalition said.

In 2004 the government issued statements reassuring that the Philippines was not prepared to conclude the Early Harvest agreement with China. However, when Premier Hu Jintao visited the Philippines early last year, the government disclosed, months after, that an agreement was already signed.

In December last year EO 485 was signed but was announced only a month after. The said executive order was not subjected to scrutiny by local farmers’ groups, for no information on the draft EO was released. "The FTA reiterates its position that our economic diplomacy with China should be focused on how to balance trade relations. We expect China to act as a good neighbor and to promote mutually beneficial trading arrangements. It should also help the Philippines in cracking down on smuggling syndicates."

It added that the government should be stricter on the entry of agricultural goods coming from China, which is the world’s second-biggest user of the GMO technology. "Chinese farmers are still using the toxic DDT chemical, which has been banned worldwide. Aside from this, the existing pest risk analysis (PRA) is haphazardly done and therefore weak; thus, should be reviewed immediately and strengthened to stop the coming in of dumped and hazardous vegetable imports."

The coalition has appealed to the government to stop pursuing free-trade arrangements with China and other countries without any consultation with the domestic producers and without a clear development framework in place. "Trade should not be pursued for trade’s sake. Trade is an instrument for development, not a weapon of surrender. It should help preserve and promote jobs and businesses," it said.

"We ask Congress to assert its oversight function on trade negotiations and for the Senate to insist on its treaty-making authority. The Early Harvest program with China and the succeeding free-trade arrangement being negotiated should be subject to Senate treaty ratification."

 source: ABS-CBN