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Senators clash over JPEPA

ABS-CBN News, Philippines

Senators clash over JPEPA

10 October 2008

Senators on Thursday alternately praised and criticized the recently ratified Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement for removing tariffs on 95 percent of Philippine exports to Japan while allegedly violating Philippine laws on foreign ownership of local businesses.

Sen. Francis Escudero criticized Thursday the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement as being "poorly and badly negotiated" after certain provisions in the bilateral treaty clearly favored foreign interests.

"No deal is better than a bad deal. JPEPA was badly and poorly negotiated. If this is the first in several economic partnership agreements that we will be entering into, I hope and pray that JPEPA will not be the model as to how our government negotiators handle such treaties," Escudero told

Escudero, one of four senators who opposed the treaty’s ratification, said the treaty received the bare minimum of 16 Senate votes needed to pass the proposal. He said he rejected the treaty for including several provisions that allowed foreign ownership of businesses and land, which is banned by the Philippine Constitution.

"The Philippines did not make mention in the reservations and exclusions many provisions that our law says should have been placed there if only to remove the cloud of doubt with respect to its implementation in accordance with Philippine laws and the Philippine Constitution," he said.

Government negotiators earlier said tariffs on 95 percent of Philippine exports to Japan will be eliminated while import duties on industrial goods such as electronics and cars will be phased out within a ten-year period. Escudero, however, said existing agreements with Japan already remove tariffs on 70 percent of Philippine exports to Japan.

He said that under the JPEPA, Japan has reserved 197 tariff lines while the Philippines excluded only six, leaving the rest of the country’s agricultural products open to competition from Japan.

Sen. Manuel Roxas, however, said the JPEPA allows the Philippines to compete with its Asian neighbors who have already ratified their own bilateral treaties with Japan.

"The lowered tariffs on agriculture will give us more market access. Industrial goods will also enter Japan with lower tariffs. We can also send more nurses to Japan," he said.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago who chairs the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, earlier said the ratification of the pact ‘’fortifies the Philippines’ relationship with Japan.’’

It took the Senate more than a year to ratify the controversial trade agreement after opposition senators called for renegotiations, saying the pact is ’’riddled with constitutional defects.’’

Even Santiago, a staunch Arroyo ally, complained after conducting a series of Senate hearings last April that many of the pact’s provisions are ’’in favor of Japan’’ and ’’unconstitutional.’’