Meaningful tariff review sought

(Phil. Daily Inquirer, B-2, May 13, 2005)

The multi-sectoral Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), a broad coalition pushing for trade and economic reforms, is challenging the government to adopt urgent trade reform measures to make the on-going tariff review meaningful to the nation.

FTA lead convenor Wigberto E. Tañada said, “We hope that this time the tariff review leads to the immediate re-calibration of our trade measures which our local industry and agriculture have long been waiting for.”

In a position paper submitted to the President, furnishing the Tariff Commission a copy, the FTA urged the government to level the playing field for local industry and agriculture.

FTA pointed out the unilateral, accelerated and one-sided trade liberalization measures implemented by the Philippines, such as the lowering of tariffs and the levels of protection for locally-produced products way below its Asian and other global competitors like Thailand, Indonesia, and China, have discriminated against its own domestic producers in industry and agriculture.

FTA also pointed out that the ongoing tariff review should be expanded into a broad trade and development review, focusing on how the erosion of the agro-industrial base can be reversed not only through the above tariff adjustment measures but also through pro-active and forward-looking trade and development measures.

FTA also proposed the development of an agro-industrial master plan which will promote the development of viable industrial and agricultural sectors based on continuous capacity building and industrial complementation.

“The government should recognize the mistakes made in the last two and half decades arising from a narrow neo-liberal development framework and should now institute the necessary corrective measures. The first step is to re-calibrate the present tariff rates,” Tañada said.

But such re-calibration will not lead to sustainable growth if undertaken without any clear vision and program of reviving, reinvigorating and modernizing Philippine industry and agriculture to make them at par with the best in Asia and the world,” he stressed.

Tañada also cautioned against rushing into bilateral trade agreements unprepared. The country is presently undertaking negotiations on economic cooperation with countries like the US, Japan, and India. As a member of ASEAN, the country has signed on to the ASEAN – China Free Trade Agreement.

“We must ensure these bilateral agreements bring about reciprocal benefits to our people and that they help develop our industry and agriculture, thus creating the very much needed jobs for our people,” he said.

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