Larger DA budget required before opening RCEP market

REUTERS

Through Alyssa Nicole O Tan, reporter

SENATORS, who will serve in the next Congress, said farm budgets need to be expanded to make farmers more competitive in preparation for market opening being considered under the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Francis Joseph G. Escudero, a recently proclaimed Senate candidate, said business world in a Viber message that agriculture can only be made more competitive “by increasing the budget for agriculture, which for 2022 is only 10% of the budget of the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways)”.

Approximately P786.6 billion was allocated to DPWH in the General Appropriations Act 2022, while P102.5 billion was made available to the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Irrigation Administration.

Business groups that support RCEP have supported larger farm budgets that are more closely aligned with spending levels of other ASEAN economies.

“We see our membership of the RCEP as an important challenge to our government to increase genuine and meaningful support for Filipino producers, particularly in the agricultural sector, which is the backbone of the Philippine economy. We therefore urge the government to significantly increase the agriculture budget in line with the budget of our comparable ASEAN neighbors, while calling on our senators to ratify the RCEP agreement without delay,” various chambers of commerce said in a joint statement.

Re-elected Senator Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said business world also referred to the need for increased budget utilization and measures against smuggling of agricultural goods in a Viber message.

“According to the farmers and fishermen themselves, the government must fiFirst, prove that it oversees the DA budget as its unresolved expenses have reached 22 billion pesos for 2020, according to the CoA (Commission on Audit) report,” she said.

“We also need an anti-smuggling oversight committee and strong trade safeguards to ensure our producers’ sales are not affected,” she added, noting that she agreed with calls for tougher quarantine and border control measures to curb the intrusion prevent viral diseases such as African swine fever.

The best indicator that the Philippines is strengthening and developing the industry is when the budget allocated to DA accounts for at least 8% of the total funding, or about 424 billion pesos of the proposed 5.3 trillion pesos budget for 2023, Ms. Hontiveros said .

“Pushing for this significant increase is a strong signal of institutional support for all farmers, fishermen and various producers,” she added.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III said it is up to President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to have the Senate approve the trade deal when March 19th The congress will open next month.

“The 19thth Congress (will) wait until (the Office of the President) re-approves said treaty to the Senate,” he said in a mobile message business worldnoting that previous FTA deliberations will be included in the committee’s records, while new hearings will be held by the relevant Senate committee in the new government.

Mr Pimentel said there was no vote on the RCEP as only 17 senators were present during the plenary session. The trade agreement required 16 affirmative votes to be Ratifiissued by the Senate.

“Two senators were abroad, one in quarantine, two going out. In short, many members were off the ground. We didn’t want to deprive them of the opportunity to participate or vote on the measure,” he said.

The RCEP, which went into effect in other signatory countries on January 1, includes Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Philippines is one of three ASEAN countries, along with Indonesia and Myanmar, not to have signed RCEP.

“The only question that needs to be answered is what the real benefit isfit by RCEP for Filipinos? Because we seem to be on the losing side,” Ms. Hontiveros said.

She noted that the deal is expected to worsen the Philippines’ trade balance, resulting in job losses and a $58 million, or 3 billion pesos, drop in annual tariff revenue. Under the RCEP, the Philippines has concessions on only 33 tariffs, accounting for 0.8% of total imports and 1.9% of all agricultural tariffs.

Although net exporters can benefit from intellectual propertyfiMs Hontiveros said the Philippines is a net importer due to increased protections under the treaty.

She also said the treaty is unlikely to benefit small and medium-sized enterprises because cooperation mechanisms between developed and developing countries are voluntary and unenforceable.

“Virtually all farming groups in the Philippines have opposed RCEP — from small farmers to large farming groups,” she said. “We have to listen to why there is an overwhelming consensus because they are the ones who are going to see this fifirst impact wave after its implementation.”

Mr Escudero said: “The games fThe field between our farmers and that of other countries is clearly not level and will only bring benefitsfiIt belongs to the more competitive country and its farmers, not to us.”

“Given the imbalance mentioned above, supposed future gains should never outweigh definite losses and suffering of our farmers,” he added.

The DA has recommended rebalancing its budget towards diversification, value creation and consolidation of production to improve volume and productivity.

An increased marketing campaign for Filipino products should also be implemented so manufacturers can maximize the benefits of expanded market access once the RCEP is ratified, the prosecutor said.

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