Philippines’ RCEP Ratification: A Deadly Blow for the Country’s Agriculture

February 23, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

With the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have just been approved by the congress and senate despite a wide array of oppositions from the Filipino masses, the country’s economic sovereignty that will supposedly provide a ground for the flourishing of local agriculture and production has been once again gnawed by global corporate interests. 

MASIPAG firmly asserts that RCEP will only further erode the country’s national sovereignty and we call upon everyone to resist the foreign and corporate-led false solutions to food and economic problems that this economic agreement pushes in our country. In particular, this new mega-trade deal will only further erode genetic diversity, strengthen corporate domination of the seed industry, intensify privatization of our genetic treasures, and criminalize the farmers’ rights on saving, exchanging, and improving seeds.

Decided by twenty-two out of twenty-four individuals from the Philippine senate last February 21, 2023, the Philippine government pushed to ratify the highly disadvantageous RCEP. The said agreement entails the further retention and intensification of our country’s export-oriented and import-dependent economic nature which is one of the primary drivers of our weak Philippine agriculture and local industry in general. 

Currently,  the “mega-regional” trade agreement RCEP comprises ASEAN members and five free trade and investment agreement (FTA) partners from South Korea, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and China covers 50% of the global manufacturing output. In the Philippines, members of the RCEP comprise 52% of the Philippines’ export market while the same members supply almost 63% of our country’s imports. 

Having no real national industry to meaningfully and economically process and cushion the volume of imports under RCEP, the Philippines will remain the primary source of cheap raw materials and labor from its so-called economic partners such as Japan and China and transnational corporations at the expense of our natural resources and food and economic security. 

The “promised gains” from the steady trade of our raw materials and labor to the other RCEP members will not be felt by the Filipino people, on the other hand, it will only give us a myriad of irreversible problems both in the agricultural, economic, and environmental aspects. 

Countries under RCEP have already felt the massive land grabbing of their agricultural lands from foreign entities and corporations facilitated by the mega-regional trade agreement. According to reports, almost 9.6 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Laos, which are all RCEP members, are now under the full control of foreign corporations and individuals coming from the FTA partners of RCEP. 

The same massive land grabbing of the Philippines’ agricultural lands is expected to happen now that we are under RCEP. Foreign investors can now easily purchase vast areas of farmlands, mountain ranges, and riversides which are all key geographic locations for sustainable organic agriculture further displacing small farmers, small-scale food producers, and indigenous Peoples to their right to a liveable and tillable land. 

International civil society organizations studying the impacts of FTAs are warning the country to keep an eye on China-led trade agreements such as RCEP as there has been an observed trend among countries under China-led trade agreements who are being forced to be also part of the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). 

UPOV is an international agreement that effectively enforces biopiracy through draconian intellectual property rights which effectively privatizes seeds and criminalizes farmers to exercise their millennia-old practice of seed keeping and trading among their fellow farmers. Worse, RCEP will even go beyond what is being stated under the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules such as a possible extension of patent rights of more than 20 years. Seed saving, improvement, and exchange will be deemed illegal, thus criminalizing these age-old traditions essential to farmers’ livelihood and food security. RCEP will only establish a punishing royalty regime wherein agro corporations such as Syngenta-Chemchina, and Monsanto-Bayer will gain the most. The ratification will also strengthen the hybrid rice program being espoused by the Department of Agriculture under the  MASAGANA 150 and 200 by President Bong bong Marcos. 

The Filipino farmers’ inalienable and inviolable rights to land and seed sovereignty shall further be hindered and therefore violated with the entry of foreign owners and corporations dictating the majority agricultural production under the mantra of profit maximization for them through unsustainable means such as chemical farming and mono-cropping. 

MASIPAG farmers and scientists also worry RCEP’s profit-maximizing nature will burden the global effort to mitigate carbon emission making the already fragile status of farmers and the Filipino people in general to climate disasters even more precarious. With the combined provisions within RCEP that eliminate tariffs and allows corporate foreign entities to own local lands, environmental plunder for the sake of exporting raw materials will be at an all-time high under RCEP. Rural communities with inadequate climate-resilient infrastructures shall be the first to experience the brunt of the calamities induced by environmental degradation due to these provisions. 

Further, tariff elimination reduces the costs of intraregional trade and production thus increasing the outputs and therefore also significantly increasing the carbon emissions of member industrialized countries such as China and Japan. Greater carbon emissions mean a warmer climate and warmer seas which makes the Pacific Ocean a hotbed for super typhoons. According to the Asian Development Bank, the Philippines currently ranks as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world with regard to the effects of climate change such as super typhoons. 

Not only will RCEP further burden the global effort to mitigate carbon emissions, but RCEP is also complicit in the destruction of many underdeveloped countries in the global south located within the pacific ocean due to its major contribution to the intensifying climate. 

With almost no room for government intervention due to its highly neoliberal and market-oriented nature, RCEP will only further restrict or destroy policies upholding our national and economic sovereignty and ultimately the rights and welfare of the Filipino people, especially the Filipino farmers.

MASIPAG reiterates that RCEP will do no good in the currently very fragile economic and agricultural conditions of our country. The senate’s position to ratify it and further liberalize our economy and agriculture is a huge blow to the countless Filipino farmers already living in very precarious situations brought on by decades of liberalized agriculture.

Amid RCEP, MASIPAG calls on everyone to be in one with the Filipino farmers’ fight for genuine food security through food sovereignty, genuine land reform, sustainable use and management of biodiversity through farmers’ control of genetic and biological resources, agricultural production, and associated knowledge. ###