MANILA–A Senate Public Hearing was convened on Tuesday, 7 February 2023 by the Committee on Foreign Relations (CFR) to extensively discuss concerns of agricultural groups regarding the Philippines’ ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement.
The hearing was facilitated by Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda and Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri. Both have stressed at the outset that RCEP should be viewed in a broader context, highlighting the positive impacts of the Agreement towards the Philippine economy, such as more investments, improved services, and food security. These, according to them, must also be considered in the evaluation.
DTI Secretary Fred Pascual attended the hearing together with key officials from the Bureau of Customs (BOC), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Energy (DOE), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and the Tariff Commission. Also present were representatives from agricultural stakeholders.
“RCEP provides a framework of rules and disciplines to ensure regulatory consistency, creating a conducive business environment that is key to ensuring the confidence of the business sector, and spurring further economic growth,” Secretary Pascual said in his opening remarks.
Further, he warned of possible negative effects on the competitiveness of Philippine products should ratification of RCEP continue to be delayed, explaining that other ASEAN countries that have already ratified the agreement are already enjoying the benefits from RCEP such as wider sourcing of raw materials for export production and reduced costs from a strengthened trading system.
“Existing linkages of the Philippines to the global value chain may deteriorate as investors and businesses look to other countries for the better economic environment and opportunities. Even our exports could become less competitive, including electronic and agricultural products, as intermediate goods used as inputs for further production and manufacturing become more expensive in comparison to our competitors”, Secretary Pacual further explained.
He also noted that there is high anticipation among foreign investors for the Philippines to participate in the regional trade agreement, especially considering the recent game-changing economic reforms such as the amendments to the Foreign Investments Act, and Public Services Act, and the enactment of the Retail Trade Liberalization Act.
Nonetheless, he maintained that the DTI recognizes concerns raised by some stakeholders within the agricultural sector, assuring them that the government would continue to provide support to improve the competitiveness and capacity of domestic industries.
For his part, Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty responded to the issues raised by groups of farmers, and explained the advantages of the Agreement vis-a-vis the existing ASEAN + 1 FTAs with Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand, which include not only enhanced market access on key Philippine products but also simplified or one set of rules of origin, flexible certification procedure, wider cumulation or sourcing of materials, among others. He also highlighted how RCEP can help encourage more investments and provide stability and predictability in the country’s business environment.
Negotiations for the RCEP agreement were launched in 2012 by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with negotiations concluding in 2020. The Philippines signed the agreement on 15 November 2020, and is currently the only RCEP signatory country that has not deposited its instrument of ratification.