By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Anakpawis Party-list Representative Ariel Casilao called for a pull-out from the World Trade Organization – Agreement on Agriculture (WTO-AoA), during the first public hearing on the impact of the implementation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-WTO.
The public hearing was sponsored by the House of Representative’s Special Committee on Globalization and WTO here on March 3.
“The Cordillera farmers have been demanding a stop to massive importation of vegetables since 2002, and then they called for a pull-out from the WTO during their protests in Manila, now we are actually facing what they are protesting against, cheap imported vegetables that could freely enter the local market, versus the costly locally produced, due to absence of government support such as irrigation, infrastructure and hauling, post-harvest and warehousing, to marketing-distribution,” Casilao said during the hearing.
He also said that it is the duty of every Filipino to demand freedom from unfair trade agreements to protect and develop the country’s own agricultural sector.
Casilao, along with other progressive partylist representatives, filed House Resolution No. 797 pushing for a congressional inquiry to determine the impact of the implementation of GATT-WTO policies to the country’s agriculture industry.
The resolution is a response to the demand of farmers for government to address the impact of the implementation of WTO agreements.
Fernando Bagyan of the Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit Tako) raised during the public hearing that the implementation of the GATT-WTO policies would worsen the already poor condition of Cordillera farmers. He said that farmers in the region are not prepared to compete with other countries.
“We have been demanding that the Philippine government pull out from the GATT-WTO for decades now just as we have been demanding for genuine agrarian reform,” Bagyan said in an interview.
Bagyan pointed out that in 2002 when imported carrots from China flooded the country, the price of local carrots dropped to P1 a kilo due to an oversupply.
“So could you imagine what happens to the agriculture industry; with the implementation of GATT-WTO, the country will be flooded not only with imported carrots but all other vegetable produce and other agricultural products as well,” Bagyan reiterated.
In a position paper for the public hearing, the Regional Agricultural and Fishery Council (RAFC) Cordillera raised that with the GATT-WTO implementation, local farmers in the region are at the losing end because of the local high production cost and added transportation cost.
RAFC in its position paper pointed out that local farmers are already burdened by expensive farm inputs, periodic crop damage due to typhoons and monsoon rains, poor farm to market roads, inadequate capital and climate change.
“The full implementation of GATT-WTO will apparently cause economic crisis and dislocation in the region similar to what happened in the sugar producing provinces of Negros in the late 1990s if nothing is done regarding the present adverse situation,” the RAFC paper read.
Teresita Gaoken, chairperson of the Sadsadan Association of Vegetable Producers, an organization of farmers from Bauko, Mountain Province, said government should provide subsidies to lower the production cost of farmers. She said that given the present cost production, it would be impossible for local farmers to compete with imported crops.
According to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Cordillera 56% of the region’s labor force are employed in the agriculture industry.
NEDA data also show that Cordillera is the country’s leading semi-temperate vegetable producer in the country, supplying 70% of the supply requirement. 82% of the region’s vegetable production comes from Benguet province.
According to Bagyan, there has been an increase in semi-temperate vegetable production in Mountain Province and Ifugao in recent years. # nordis.net