Asian Journal | May 24th, 2007
Side deal on toxic wastes won’t wash, says lawyer
MANILA, Philippines — A proposed side agreement to the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) aimed at ensuring that no toxic wastes will be exported to the Philippines will not address flaws of the principal agreement that can encourage smuggling and ruin Philippine industries, a lawyer and professor of trade law said Wednesday.
Such a side agreement would "not solve the deeper, more substantive problems of the JPEPA," Jeremy Gatdula of the Ateneo de Manila University said in reaction to a statement made in Tokyo on Tuesday by Philippine ambassador to Japan, Domingo Siazon.
Siazon told reporters ahead of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s arrival in Tokyo on Tuesday that foreign ministers of the two countries would sign the side agreement, with Japan promising not to export materials considered illegal in the Philippines.
The said the side agreement was intended to overcome resistance from what could be an opposition-dominated Senate.
Gatdula said the JPEPA posed problems for the Philippines, and the issue of toxic wastes "is not really one of them."
"Side agreement or no side agreement on toxic wastes, the Senate should really be cautious about this treaty," he said.
Gatdula said the safeguard measures in the JPEPA provided less protection than stipulated by Philippine laws and the World Trade Organization.
He said this matter became even more significant because "the domestic cement, steel, and ceramic industries have sought or have been seeking safeguard measures from imports."
The JPEPA’s rule-of-origin provisions also "allow the use of three methodologies that could create a bureaucratic quandary resulting in more transshipment and technical smuggling concerns," Gatdula said.
He added that the agreement included positions on the so-called "Singapore issues," which many developing countries, including the Philippines, had rejected in the WTO. "This puts in question the consistency of our trade policy," he said.
The Singapore issues refer to four subjects, the discussion of which started in the 1996 Singapore Ministerial Conference: trade and investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement, and possible ways of simplifying trade procedures, also known as "trade facilitation."
These issues were originally included in the Doha Development Agenda, and negotiations were supposed to have started after the 2003 Cancún Ministerial Conference.
No consensus was reached in Cancún, and members agreed to proceed with talks on trade facilitation and to drop the other three issues from the Doha agenda.
The JPEPA provides "safeguard protection for our local industries, complicated rules of origin that could encourage smuggling, and additional obligations identified as Singapore issues, which we rejected at the WTO level," Gatdula said.
He also said the need for the JPEPA was questionable because the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan were already working on a free trade agreement.
Senator Manuel Roxas, chairman of the trade and commerce committee that handled the JPEPA hearings at the Senate, also said the toxic waste issue was not the only stumbling block to the agreement’s ratification.
Roxas said the hearings showed the Philippines as being at the short end of the agreement, specifically in the movement of labor.
He said Japan "might have opened up their market for our caregivers and nurses, but they have put up barriers to our entry. It’s like opening their window but putting thick bars in between."
With the stringent requirements on labor hiring — such as fluency in the Japanese language, both verbal and written, including passing a test administered in Japanese — "it will take us decades before we can benefit from these supposed benefits," Roxas said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, an oppositionist seeking reelection, said the Senate would ratify the JPEPA only if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would put down in black and white that Japan would not dump toxic wastes on the Philippines.
"We will only consider it for approval if Prime Minister Abe sends us a letter clearly indicating that they will remove the provision on toxic waste dumping. For as long as that provision is there, we will reject it," Lacson said.