The Philippine Star 10/17/2004
NGOs fear trade-off in RP-Japan trade talks
By Rocel C. Felix
Talks of a possible trade-off between the local agriculture and industrial sectors in the on-going trade negotiations for the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) are worrying various sectors.
Several groups voiced their concern over talks of a trade-off between the agriculture and industrial sectors amid Japanese demands to open up the domestic market to Japanese industrial goods in exchange for freer access of Philippine agricultural goods in Japan.
Arsenio Tanchuling, executive director of Tambuyog Development Center (TDC) , a non-government organization in the fisheries sector, expressed the sentiments of the groups when he said that such a trade-off would mean the immediate tariff removal on all industrial imports from Japan which would lead to job losses in the less competitive local industrial sector.
"On the other hand, there is no assurance that Japanese tariff concessions in fisheries and agriculture would lead to more jobs in agriculture and absorb the losses in the industrial sector. Since the 1980s, the Japanese market has benefited only the agribusiness exporting sector, while millions of small farmers and fishers have remained poor because they do not have the capacity to engage in foreign trade," said Tanchuling.
The other groups included the Kilusang Mangingisda, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Philippine Peasant Institute, Fair Trade Alliance, Focus on the Global South, Alyansa Agrikultura, Alyansa ng Maliit na Magsasaka at Mangingisda, Action for Economic Reform and the Philippine Network of Rural Development Institute.
Tanchuling said that while there are potential benefits from greater market access for agriculture, government should lend support to small producers in terms of production and post-harvest technologies and facilities that would enhance their efficiency and competitiveness.
Earlier, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Segfredo Serrano said the Philippines will maintain its hardline stance, especially in pushing Japan to open up its agricultural market when the two countries resume this month their bilateral free trade talks.
"We are hoping that the Japanese government this time around will be more reasonable. If there is no significant market gain for the country’s agricultural products, there can be no conclusion of talks. If they (Japanese) are not going to consider opening up their agriculture sector, we are not opening up our industrial sector as well," said Serrano.
Philippine and Japanese trade and agriculture representatives are meeting on Oct. 25 in Manila for the fifth round of the negotiations under the JPEPA.
The JPEPA negotiations are aimed at reaching a free trade agreement between the two countries. The Philippine government’s goals is to gain better market access through reduction if not outright elimination of tariffs for agricultural products since Japan is already a leading importer of shrimp, seaweed, tuna and crabs.
The other important issues for the Philippines include trade facilitation, liberalization in the fields of services and investment and the improvement of business environment.
Japan on the other hand, wants the Philippines to open up its industrial sector but insists on excluding 790 agricultural products such as rice, bananas, sugar, pineapple, leather and leather products.
The Philippines proposed three approaches for tariff reduction/elimination. One is for the immediate tariff elimination of specific agricultural products, gradual tariff elimination and total exclusion of identified sensitive products.
Japan for its part, proposed that customs duties will be eliminated only after 10 years from the effectivity of the trade agreement.
The talks bogged down last July because the Japanese government wanted to have separate talks for agricultural and non-agricultural or industrial commodities that will be included in the proposed tariff reduction program proposed under JPEPA.
Japan insisted on maintaining its tariff shield on its sensitive farm products while demanding that the Philippines liberalize its industrial products.