Senate will ratify RCEP – Zubiri

Senate will ratify RCEP – Zubiri

Senate President Juan Miguel ‘Migz’ Zubiri. Photo from Senate

SENATE President Juan Miguel Zubiri is confident of getting the 16 votes needed to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnerships (RCEP) free trade agreement.

“RCEP ratification is a priority of the Senate. As a matter of fact, we have a hearing on the seventh (February 7), which is Tuesday, for all the other stakeholders. We might have one more hearing for the oppositors but eventually, hopefully, we will be able to get 16 votes to ratify that,” Zubiri said in a chance interview.

He said the Senate expects to ratify the trade agreement within the first quarter of 2023.

“We need it, OK. RCEP is 10 countries of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), together with Japan, South Korea, China, New Zealand and Australia. In totality, it’s 50 percent of our trading; 50 percent of our exports and imports come from these countries, 50 percent of these 15 countries alone,” Zubiri said.

Only the Philippines has not signed the economic partnership.

“It will affect our semiconductors, it will affect our imports, exports. When I say imports, when you need steel to build up a plant here, we will be slapped with a high tariff because we are not part of the trading bloc. So, if we get steel imports from China, they could charge us higher tariffs coming here because we are not part of the RCEP,” he said.

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Even the country’s exports will be impacted by high tariffs if the country does not approve the RCEP, he added.

“When we want to export bananas and pineapples, for example, in Bukidnon, we produce highland bananas and pineapples to Japan, we want to export to Korea, they will not be able to take our products, they will take our products at a higher tariff rate. So, it is definitely beneficial to our country to be part of RCEP,” he said.

More than 100 farmers’ groups are against the country’s inclusion in RCEP.

Zubiri assured that under the RCEP, Filipino farmers will still be protected.

“There is a protection clause for the next 10 years, there will not be a free flow of goods for the next 10 years for agriculture just to protect them,” he said.

Zubiri said the 10-year period gives farmers enough time to modernize and compete with products from other countries.

Former Agriculture secretary and Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) Board Chairman Leonardo Montemayor, who is one of the convenors of the coalition against RCEP, called on the Senate to withhold its concurrence with the treaty until the necessary policies are in place to protect the agricultural sector.

Zubiri said that because he is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, “I know what I am talking about. I am a farmer by education and profession, and if we do not modernize or we do not support the farmers to integrate policies and programs of the 20st century, we will be left behind.” He cited the case of local garlic which sells for P400 per kilo, compared to the garlic in Taiwan, which sells at the equivalent of P100 per kilo.

Even the sugar industry, which he said he represents, needs to modernize.

“When you say modernize, the cutting and loading of the sugarcane, the efficiency of mills, we have to modernize our mills; they are not doing it,” Zubiri said.

“Instead of buying a Land Cruiser, buy a tractor,” he urged sugar planters. “Use your income now to modernize, to be able to produce efficiently and affordably these food products. Brazil can bring in cheap sugar to the Philippines, India can bring in cheap sugar, Thailand can bring in cheap sugar, and yet they make money in their countries.

He said that in Bukidnon, his home province, sugar farmers are still using the Imelda variety.

“This variety was made in 1997. They are not utilizing the modern varieties that are drought resistant and flood resistant, so there are a lot of things to do in agriculture but definitely, let us not make everyone suffer,” Zubiri said.

He said President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s hands are tied amid high prices of agricultural commodities.

Sen. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which is deliberating the RCEP.

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