Larger DA budget needed before RCEP market opens
By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Journalist
SENATORS who will sit in the next Congress have said that agricultural budgets must be expanded to make farmers more competitive in view of the market opening envisaged under the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Francis Joseph G. Escudero, a recently proclaimed candidate for the Senate, said Business world in a Viber message that the agricultural industry can only be made more competitive “by increasing the budget for agriculture which, for 2022, represents only 10% of the budget of the DPWH (Direction des Travaux Publics et de la Voirie )”.
About 786.6 billion pesos was allocated to the DPWH in the General Appropriation Act of 2022, while the Ministry of Agriculture (DA) and the National Irrigation Administration received 102.5 billion pesos.
Business groups supporting RCEP have supported larger agricultural budgets that are more closely aligned with spending levels in other ASEAN economies.
“We view our joining RCEP as a significant challenge for our government to scale up genuine and meaningful support to Filipino producers, especially in the agricultural sector, which is the backbone of the Philippine economy. We therefore urge the government to provide a substantial agricultural budget increase commensurate with that expected in our peer ASEAN neighbors, as we urge 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 in a message Viber also stressed the need for increased use of the budget and measures against the smuggling of agricultural products.
“According to the farmers and fishermen themselves, the government must Ifprove first that he is monitoring the DA budget as his unliquidated expenses reached 22 billion pesos, according to the 2020 CoA (Audit Commission) report,” she said.
“We also need a smuggling oversight committee and strong trade safeguard mechanisms to ensure our growers’ sales are not affected,” she added, noting that she agreed. with demands for stricter quarantine and border control measures to prevent the entry of viral diseases. like African swine fever.
The best indicator that the Philippines is strengthening and growing the industry is that the DA budget is at least 8% of total appropriations, or about 424 billion pesos out of the proposed 5.3 trillion peso budget for 2023, said Mrs Hontiveros.
“Pushing for this marked increase is a strong signal of institutional support for all farmers, fishers and various producers,” she added.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III said it would be up to President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to approve the trade deal in the Senate when the 19e Congress opens next month.
” The 19e Congress (will wait) for (the Office of the President) to re-approve said treaty in the Senate,” he said in a mobile message to Business worldnoting that previous deliberations on the free trade agreement will form part of the committee’s records while further hearings will be held by the appropriate Senate committee in the new administration.
Mr. Pimentel indicated that there was no vote on the RCEP since only 17 senators were present during the plenary. Trade deal needed 16 afIfrmative votes to ratifyIfby the Senate.
“Two senators were abroad, one quarantined, two went out. In short, many members were not on the floor. We did not want to deprive them of the possibility of participating and/or voting on the measure “, did he declare.
RCEP, which came into force on January 1 in other signatory countries, involves Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Asian Nations Southeast (ASEAN).
The Philippines is one of three ASEAN countries that have not signed RCEP, along with Indonesia and Myanmar.
“The only question that needs to be answered is what is the real benefitIft 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 drop in annual tariff revenue. Under RCEP, the Philippines granted concessions on only 33 tariff lines, equivalent to 0.8% of total imports and 1.9% of all agricultural tariff lines.
Although net exporters of intellectual property may benefitIfMore because of the increased protection under the treaty, Ms Hontiveros said the Philippines is a net importer.
She also said the treaty is unlikely to benefit small and medium-sized businesses, as mechanisms for cooperation between developed and developing countries are voluntary and non-binding.
“Virtually every agricultural group in the Philippines has opposed RCEP – from small farmers to large agricultural groups,” she said. “We have to listen to why there is an overwhelming consensus because they are the ones who will live the Iffirst wave of impactFafter its implementation.
Mr. Escudero said: “The game FThe ground between our farmers and that of other countries is clearly not equal and will only bring benefitsIfts to the most competitive country and its farmers, not ours.
“The putative future gains should never outweigh the definitive losses and suffering of our farmers given the imbalance I mentioned above,” he added.
The DA recommended that its budget be redirected towards diversification, value addition and consolidation of production to improve volume and productivity.
An enhanced marketing campaign for Philippine produce should also be implemented so that producers can maximize the benefits of expanded market access once RCEP is ratified, the DA said.