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‘JPEPA fashionable but not timely’–expert

Posted by Abi Kwok on August 27, 2008

By Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 14:36:00 08/27/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Despite assurances by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago that the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) will benefit the country’s economy, experts believe otherwise.

In a forum titled “JPEPA losers and gainers: constitutional and trade issues” at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City on Wednesday, Edna Espos, former commercial attache and former director of the Department of Trade and Industry’s International Trade Relations, said that upon close examination, the JPEPA was only “fashionable” but “not timely.”

“We don’t have much to gain from it. Japan is very tough on its agricultural tariffs and JPEPA needs a multilateral deal; not just an agreement between two countries,” she added. “It should be beneficial and not just fashionable [to the country].”

Meanwhile, Professor Merlin Magallona, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law and former undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the country negotiated JPEPA using a “Japanese strategy.”

“We all know that Japan is incapable of producing young, fresh, and capable laborers. In the next 10 years, they will have a very aging labor force and without relocating [to the Philippines], it will never survive economic competition,” he said.

Because of this, both Magallona and Espos said that JPEPA should be rejected because “we negotiated but we did not get what we wanted,” Espos said.

Espos cited different problems with the trade agreement, saying that when the agreement is signed, the country will have to impose zero tariffs on all its import duties except on six lines: five on rice and one on salt.

But with Japan, there will be more than 190 exceptions from zero tariffs, including its export of more than $37 million of Okinawa pineapples and canned fish, which will pose a threat to the livelihood of local farmers and fishermen, said Espos.

Although JPEPA will allow around $100 million worth of the country’s exports of papaya, asparagus, bananas, and coconut to be duty free in one year, Espos said this would only be a “very slight improvement” because Japan has been providing the country with low import duties with three percent on particular products.

Espos also denied claims that JPEPA would provide more jobs for nurses, caregivers, and IT professionals, saying that the agreement does not allow these professionals to work in Japan.

“These are exactly the same commitments Japan made under the World Trade Organization [WTO] and there is no added provision in the JPEPA. There is nothing new in concession granted in the JPEPA,” she said.

Magallona, meanwhile, questioned the intention of lawmakers pushing for JPEPA, adding that “We must determine the direction of where our country is going. The direction is not being determined by our leaders but by external forces.”

Espos also expressed worries that JPEPA would cost unemployment here, particularly in firms operated by Japanese employers.

She cited the industrial provisions stated in JPEPA where all Japanese automotive parts and accessories would be duty free once the trade agreement was signed.

“This means that if we don’t improve our production, don’t be surprised if Japanese manufacturers here simply close shop and just import all their products,” Espos said.

“Nagbobolahan lang tayo ditto [We are just kidding each other here],” she added. “We cannot get any more from Japan.”

What could be beneficial, both Magallona and Espos believed, was if JPEPA would provide provisions for agricultural subsidies for local farmers and fishermen.

“JPEPA is silent on fishery subsidies, which endangers the livelihood of fishermen and puts at risk local agricultural stock,” Espos said.

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