Farmers seek Senate review of RCEP impact

FARMERS are calling for a review of the Philippines’ performance under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.

“We call on Senate President Francis Escudero to immediately reorganize and convene the RCEP Oversight Committee. We need to know if the government lived up to its promises to the agricultural sector,” Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said in a statement.

RCEP is a free trade deal involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia. It took effect in June 2023.

It allows minimal to zero restrictions in terms of quantities shipped, and seeks to minimize import taxes.

The Department of Trade and Industry has said that it plans to monitor potential import surges on commodity shipments enabled by RCEP.

“A scheduled meeting of the Committee last May 22 was canceled following the change in Senate leadership,” the FFF said.

Additionally, the FFF declared its opposition to further cuts in tariff rates for rice, a move designed to bring down prices.

“(This) contradicts their assurances during the RCEP Senate hearings that these products would not suffer any tariff reduction,” it added.

Earlier, Finance Secretary Ralph G. Recto said that tariff rates on imported rice could be slashed to 17.5% from the current 35%.

This would support the Finance department’s goals to lower rice prices by 20% by September.

Mr. Montemayor said that Congress should also commit to a significant increase in the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) budget.

“A large part of the proposed increase in the DA’s 2025 budget is placed in Tier 2, where it will have to compete with proposals from all other government agencies. How the DA budget is finally configured will show whether the Senators were really serious in their commitments when they approved RCEP,” he added.

The DA is proposing a budget of P513.81 billion for 2025 to support the construction of new irrigation and postharvest facilities. The national rice program will get P294.21 billion of the proposed budget. — Adrian H. Halili