UPI Asia | 22 August 2007
Commentary: Japan eyes tuna in trade pact with Philippines
GERRY ALBERT CORPUZ
The current debate in the Philippines on the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement has been focused on the importation of Japan’s toxic waste and the Philippines’ exportation of Filipino nurses and other medical practitioners to the Land of the Rising Sun. To set the record straight, this one-sided, syndicated and unscrupulous trade pact between the Japanese and Philippine governments is not about dumping Japan’s toxic waste in exchange for nursing jobs in Japan.
The biggest stake here is the Philippines’ national patrimony and sovereignty being sold — for political convenience and to the economic advantage of local power brokers in the administration of Philippine President Gloria Arroyo — to Japan, the second largest exploiting economy across the globe, next to the United States.
What the Japanese government and its transnational fishing clients are really after are the Philippines’ precious tunas. Under Article 28 Section 3 of JPEPA, the Philippine government will allow 8,000-ton commercial fishing vessels from Japan to explore the country’s marine resources and fish for our tunas.
Japan is known to consume 630,000 tons of tuna per year or 11 pounds of tuna per person. With the current catch shrinking in their own seas, Japanese tuna groups are targeting the Philippines as their major source of tuna in Southeast Asia. They are particularly eying areas with confirmed rich tuna deposits like the Moro Gulf and Celebes Sea in Mindanao and other tuna potential areas across the Philippine archipelago.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, or Pamalakaya, a national federation of small fisherfolk organizations in the Philippines with 43 provincial chapters and an individual membership of 80,000, has strongly opposed the Philippine Senate ratification of the trade agreement. Leaders of the group have asked all senators to reject the economic treaty, saying it was tantamount to a second invasion of the Philippines by imperial Japan since World War II.
An initial study by Pamalakaya said more than 180,000 fish workers in the tuna industry in South Cotabato, Sarangani, General Santos City and Davao will be affected or displaced by the entry of Japanese "tuna factory ships" in the country if the trade pact is implemented.
Proponents of the deal said the same privilege would be given to small Filipino fishermen under this economic treaty. How could the small Filipino fishermen go far with their 3-ton small fishing vessels and low-level fishing technologies? The one-sided equation of 8,000-ton Japanese fishing vessel ranged against the average 3- to 20-gross ton Filipino fishing boat is a clear manifestation that this treaty is one-sided and caters mainly to the interest of exploiting capitalists of Japan.
Another point is that JPEPA will pave the way for the entry of substandard Japanese food to the country, including mercury-infested fish. In the early 1970s, over 100 Japanese either died or became very ill because of their exposure to methyl mercury emanating from local industrial discharge that poisoned the nearby fishing grounds in Minimata, Japan.
Japan is known for dumping surplus fish products in the Philippines, like the "Japayuki" fish which is being sold at local markets across the country. During the time of former President Joseph Estrada, the Japayuki fish became controversial because of the presence of formalin in them.
Just recently, China tightened the quarantine of food imported from Japan after Chinese authorities found out that 30 batches of imported food from Japan failed to meet China’s quality rules. The Chinese food authorities found excessive sorbic acid in Japanese fish sausages, which was 17 times higher than the 1.3 grams per kilogram allowed by Chinese sanitation authorities. In eastern China’s Shandong province, some frozen octopus and fish imported from Japan were found to contain dangerous bacteria that may cause meningitis and blood poisoning. In Guangdong province in southern China, potato powder imported from Japan contained excessive sulfur dioxide while the cadmium content of some frozen oysters was five times higher than the permissible upper limit.
The JPEPA will encourage and institutionalize the importation of substandard and toxic-contaminated food from Japan, aside from its economic implications that would affect local producers and the livelihood of small farmers and fishermen across the archipelago.
We hope the Philippine Senate will not give JPEPA a chance. The trade agreement, which was approved by the Japanese Parliament early this year, is like allowing Japan to treat Filipinos as objects of transnational greed.
The Philippine government had been importing an average of 10,000 metric tons of various fish and marine products from Japan since the country signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and became an official member of the World Trade Organization in 1995 in exchange for high value fishery products Japan was importing from the country.
Beginning 2002, Japan slowed down the exportation of fish products to the Philippines reducing its total exports to 6,765 metric tons and concentrated more on importation of high value fish products from the country. In the same year, Japan imported 30,065 metric tons of high-value fish products from the Philippines on the condition that the Philippines would relax its policies on Japanese investments.
Such strings-attached trade and investment agreements with Japan paved the way for the incursion of Japan into other investments and business opportunities in the country. Japan is now active in offshore mining in search for oil and gas. It is investing some US$6 million dollars in oil and gas exploration in Tañon Strait, a protected seascape separating the islands of Cebu and Negros.
In exchange for our fish exported to their country, the Japanese want to control the Philippine seas for fish, oil and gas. They want the Philippine market for 221,450 passenger cars, 145,950 commercial vehicles and 462,100 motorcycles per year, once the tariff on imported cars is eliminated under the trade pact.
For the 87 million Filipinos, JPEPA is like an agreement between the most powerful mafia in Japan and its puppet mafia in the Philippines. In this context, the Arroyo government has committed the high crime of treason. The Senate must not be a part and shall never be a part of this crime of treason to the highest order. The senators must cross party lines and send this anti-fisherfolk and anti-Filipino economic treaty to the dustbin of history.
(Gerry Albert Corpuz is a correspondent of Bulatlat.com, an alternative Philippine online news site. He is also currently the head of the Information Department of Pamalakaya, a national federation of small fisherfolk organizations in the Philippines. His Web site is www.gerryalbertcorpuz.motime.com, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)