July 17 2004
Market access for fruits sought in FTA with Japan
By MELODY M. AGUIBA
The Department of Agriculture (DA) will work for a better market for tropical vegetables in a proposed Philippines-Japan free trade agreement (FTA) as Japan is believed to be more inclined to favor tropical vegetables grown by small farmers over tropical fruits grown by multinational companies that already widely dominate its market.
Segfredo R. Serrano, DA assistant secretary for policy and planning, said that government is encouraging farmers’ cooperatives which grow tropical vegetables such as okra and talong (eggplant) to participate in the ongoing FTA consultations which is hoped to result in better market access for these products.
"We can expand markets for these tropical vegetables because there is political support for this that will benefit small farmers. We will be able to do offensive trade on tariff lines from Chapters 1 to 24 if you want those products tariffied down to zero ," he said.
Serrano said that if the Philippines will be able to ask for tariff reduction in Japan, then more investments from Japan may also be expected to flow in.
"If we succeed in lowering tariff to Japan, we’re creating a better environment for Japan to invest here," he said.
Government is also seeking for expanded markets for chicken and fisheries through Japan’s elimination of its tariff on these as the Philippines has already gained some level of competitiveness on these products.
"We’re the only significant country in this side of Asia that has no avian flu. The Japanese said that the avian flu crisis will soon end. But we told them, "It appears to us it’s going to be a seasonal thing as you read in the papers new cases of avian flu infection in Vietnam and Thailand. And Indonesia it not going to be far behind," he said.
The country has just exported more than 50 metric tons (MT) of chicken to Japan through San Miguel Foods Inc. and Swift. Serrano said that the export to Japan has also been helping the Philippines to create newer markets as its ability to export to Japan proves its international competitiveness.
"If we can meet Japanese standards, we can meet standards anywhere," he said.
The proposed Philippines-Japan FTA eyes a length of 10 years as time limit for bringing down tariff of agreed products to zero.
While the Philippines also wants Japan to reduce tariffs on fishery products, government is worried that Japan has listed fishery as an excluded good under the FTA.
Instead of being called an FTA, Japan and the Philippines have agreed to call the trade talks an economic cooperation agreement (EPA) as Japan has refused to open up its agricultural market but wanted the Philippines to open up its industrial markets.