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Int’l group urges Senate to reject RP-Japan trade pact

Philippine Daily Inquirer 10/31/2006

Int’l group urges Senate to reject RP-Japan trade pact

By Blanche Rivera, Juliet Labog-Javellana

SAYING Japan’s motives were "highly suspect," an international monitoring group urged the Philippine Senate on Tuesday to reject a controversial economic deal with Japan unless toxic wastes were removed from the list of products that could be brought into the Philippines.

The US-based Basel Action Network (BAN) made the appeal as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita released a memo addressed to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seeking her approval of a plan by the Department of Foreign Affairs to submit the economic agreement to the Senate for ratification.

Ermita claimed the accord was now in effect but did not explain how.

BAN, based in Seattle, is a network of environmental activists that monitors compliance with the Basel Convention banning dumping of toxic wastes in Third World countries.

Calls have also been made in the Senate for hearings on the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) following criticism by environmentalists that in exchange for Filipino nurses and caregivers, the Philippines would become Japan’s dump.

In its strongly worded statement, BAN also chided the Philippine government for claiming that the inclusion of wastes in the tariff reduction program of the JPEPA was a mere technicality, saying this was “misleading at best and outright lies at worst.”

“The government of the Philippines has been less than truthful about the significance of the inclusion of waste trade liberalization provisions in the JPEPA,” BAN said.

The accord was signed by President Arroyo and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Helsinki, Finland on September 9.

BAN said Japan’s recent pronouncement that it was committed to strictly enforce import/export controls on waste was “highly misleading.”

BAN claimed it was “well-known” that Japan had no intention of ratifying the 1995 amendment to the Basel Convention.

The network said that despite giving its consensus to the Basel amendment, Japan was still dumping its waste on countries like China.

Japan has also been strongly lobbying for a nonprohibitive convention on ocean-going vessels carrying waste, insisting that the Basel Convention did not cover ships containing waste, BAN said.

BAN issued its statement of concern over the JPEPA at a forum in Tokyo on waste. The statement was released to Philippine media by the local environmentalist group Ecowaste Coalition.

“Japan, being the leading country attacking the Basel Convention’s obligations on various fronts, has highly suspect motivations in the JPEPA,” BAN said.

“In fact, the established laws designed to rein in free trade in waste are under attack in these tariff reductions for waste found in the agreement. Steps must be taken immediately to prevent ratification of this agreement until all of the wastes are removed from the agreement,” the group said.

It said: “Both the Philippine and Japanese Senate and Diet must refuse to ratify the agreement until all listings of waste are expunged from tariff reduction provisions.”

The Japanese Embassy in Manila said in a statement on Monday that “there seems to be some misunderstanding” that Japan would export hazardous wastes to the Philippines.

The embassy said Japan had been enforcing strict export/import control, “which does not allow any export of toxic and hazardous wastes to another country, including the Philippines, unless the government of such a country approves such export.”

BAN coordinator Jim Puckett said the Japanese Embassy’s pronouncements were misleading and “very telling in what it does not say.”

He said that while Japan committed to the strict enforcement of import and export controls law, it did not say that it was willing to remove the language eliminating the tariff on waste and that it was not interested in exporting wastes of any kind to developing countries.

“The fact is the JPEPA is a treaty that could well trump the national laws of the Philippines ... Japan’s refusal to eliminate this language and renounce waste trade to developing countries speaks volumes,” Puckett said.

BAN said in its statement that treaties, once ratified, become the equivalent of national law, and that parties to treaties should have sought to prevent conflicts between treaties and national laws.

“This fact begs the questions as to why the wastes were included in the JPEPA at all. There is no compelling reason ... as to why these wastes must be included in the agreement if they are in fact in conflict or irrelevant,” it said.

In his memo to Ms Arroyo dated October 25, Ermita said: “JPEPA enters into force on the 30th day after the date in which the governments of the parties exchange diplomatic notes informing each other that the necessary legal procedures have been completed.”

The memo said that the Department of Trade and Industry, the Bureau of Customs, National Economic Development Authority, Intellectual Property Organization, Department of Budget and Management, Tariff Commission and Department of Justice “have concurred with the ratification.”

The memo added that with JPEPA’s entry into force, almost 95 percent of Philippine exports to Japan will face zero duties, both parties shall eliminate the tariffs on almost all industrial goods within 10 years from the date of the entry into force.

“Access to the Japanese market of RP service providers will be enhanced and nondiscriminatory treatment, with limited exceptions, will be guaranteed,” the memo said.

“A formal arrangement for the acceptance of RP nurses and caregivers into Japan will be established,” it added.

Ermita told reporters he still needed to “verify” from the President whether the trade pact needed ratification by the Senate.

Ermita denied Malacañang had ordered a review of the agreement and said the agreement is now in force.

“I do not know of any such instructions to review the JPEPA. Remember it is taking effect 30 (days) after its signing which is from September 9 to October 9 so it’s now effective, so I have no knowledge of a review (ordered by the President),” Ermita said.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, and other senators have said the trade pact is a treaty that must be ratified by the Senate before it can take effect.

“You know I’ll have to double-check, but I think as you said it has to be submitted (for ratification), otherwise the Senate will create a howl,” Ermita said in a press briefing.

He also said: “Anything that’s against our laws will not be allowed, it is so provided in JPEPA. We have the environmental law ... We cannot violate the provisions of our environmental law.”