MANILA, Sept 9 (Mabuhay) — The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) faced on Thursday the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chaired by Senator Imee Marcos with the assurance of safeguards within the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The RCEP is a free trade agreement (FTA) between 16 Asian countries to strengthen economic linkages and enhance trade and investment-related activities contributing to minimizing the development gap among parties.

Marcos told the committee that her colleagues were reluctant to approve the RCEP because of the possible implications it may bring to the agricultural sector and small businesses.

DTI Assistant Secretary for Industry Development and Trade Group Allan Gepty said the RCEP covers small and medium enterprises(SMEs).

“When you talk about medium (enterprises), they are capable of accessing foreign markets. Small, basically magkakaroon din sila ng (they will have a) participation. Maybe not for purposes of accessing foreign markets but at least part of the supply chain internally or domestically and then eventually, upgrading themselves to eventually integrate to the global value chain,” Gepty told the panel.

He also said there are a lot of ways to strengthen SMEs, especially in terms of the transparency of export rules and regulations.

“If we’re talking of legal framework in the nature of laws under RCEP, wala naman tayong (we have no) commitment to pass laws in a way to align our legal regime dito sa (here in the) commitment sa (to) RCEP,” Gepty added, saying the RCEP also has provisions concerning consumer protection.

In the course of implementation, Gepty said, the Philippines can always ask for concession modifications following the procedures in the agreement.

Meanwhile, DFA Assistant Gina Jamoralin also assured the panel that the RCEP does not cover rice and sugar importation.

“In case there is a surge of imports to the Philippines from any RCEP country, the other countries can also do remedies like prevent the further injury to the domestic industry. So there is a safeguard measure to the RCEP,” she said.

DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo said a party can also call for a general review of the agreement every five years of its implementation.

“Yes I agree that every country has the right to make reservations and there is this article that calls for a general review of the agreement every five years for the purpose of let’s say updating,” Manalo said, noting that out of the 15 original countries, only the Philippines has yet to ratify its membership to the RCEP.

Marcos agreed that while the country will always have the need to import, it also needs to strengthen its rules and regulations.

“Panindigan natin na kaya ng Pilipinas i-regulate na hindi natin binibigay sa sinuman ang ating karapatan na i-regulate pa rin (Let us prove that the Philippines can regulate and we will not surrender to anyone our right to still regulate),” she said, citing the importation policies of Japan and South Korea.

“Huwag basta import nang import kahit panahon ng anihan at panahon ng (Do not just import even during the harvest season and) open season sa (in) fisheries,” she added.

Meanwhile, Department of Agriculture (DA) Policy, Research, and Development Director Noel Padre said they continue to engage their stakeholders to get input in crafting importation policies.

“We are focusing on improving our production and productivity as well as our ability to distribute our domestic production from those surplus areas to deficit areas. We encourage importation only when domestic production is not enough to address our demand,” Padre said.

Marcos tasked the DTI, DFA, and DA to form a technical working group to address misunderstandings and misconceptions about the RCEP and craft a brief resolution that she can present to the Senate plenary.

Earlier, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the RCEP was among the topics discussed during his recent meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

“We covered even the RCEP, we talked about it, the ratification of RCEP by the Philippines, which is going to be very high up on the order of business of the Senate, after the budget is passed,” the President said.

Manalo said Indonesia had just ratified the RCEP last week. (MNS)