Officials’ absence in trade talks in Geneva assailed Max V. de Leon and Jennifer A. Ng Reporters

Officials’ absence in trade
talks in Geneva assailed

Max V. de Leon and Jennifer A. Ng

QUEZON Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III assailed the absence of Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap from the World Trade Organization (WTO) mini-ministerial talks that start in Geneva on Monday, saying they should attend then use the country’s veto power should new modalities disadvantageous to the Philippines emerge.

Tañada, in a statement released by Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), said he was surprised and saddened upon hearing that Favila, who is supposed to be the country’s chief negotiator, and Yap will not be attending the mini-ministerial meeting that is primarily meant to set new multilaterals in the agricultural trade and nonagriculture market access.

“While I do not doubt the negotiating capacities of most government bureaucrats we have sent to the miniministerial, still, the privilege to take the floor and make a point during the talks is given first and foremost to ministers. Undersecretaries are second priority there,” said Tañada, the vice chairman of Congress’s special committee on WTO and Globalization.

He said Favila and Yap should capitalize on the claims that the Doha Round of Talks in the WTO is a “Development Round” and new modalities should move the interests of developing countries more than the rich nations.

He said while there are opportunities in the offing at the WTO Doha Round, there are also “real threats to our economy.” See related story on civil-society’s views, “Economy”

This, as the country’s chief negotiator for agriculture gave assurances Sunday that the Philippines will not give up on the inclusion of safeguards for farm products.

Interviewed by phone from Geneva, Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano said the Philippines has not changed its stance, especially on the issue of safeguards. “The Philippines cannot flip-flop on its stance [especially with regard to safeguards].”

Agriculture Secretary Yap, for his part, said that he has already given instructions to the Philippine delegation; however, he refused to give details, especially on the draft modalities on the Agreement on

Sources simply said Yap instructed Philippine negotiators for farm trade to stand firm on the issue of safeguards.

The Philippines is part of the so-called Group of 33 (G-33) pushing for the inclusion of special products (SP) and the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) in a new global trade accord.

Earlier, the G-33 countries proposed that the SP should comprise 20 percent of total agricultural tariff lines, and that 50 percent of SPs should be exempted from tariff reduction; while the remaining 50 percent should be subjected to minimal tariff cuts of 5 percent and 10 percent.

The group had also pushed for self-designation on the identification of SPs.

The G-33 countries have also proposed that the SSM be made available to all farm products and that countries be allowed to use price or volume trigger. The group had also proposed that countries be allowed to use remedies that will enable countries to apply tariffs beyond the Uruguay Round bound rate.

In lamenting the personal participation of the Cabinet secretaries in the Geneva talks this week, Tañada said Yap should be fighting it out with the agriculture ministers of other countries to ensure the outcome of the talks advances the Philippines’ food and livelihood security, as well as rural development.

With this, he said, the tariff-cutting schemes that will be worked out in Geneva should not result in untrammeled trade liberalization that hurts local industries.

The Philippine ministers, he added, should also see to it that significant reductions are made in the domestic agriculture subsidies given by developed countries—the US, EU, Australia and Japan.

Tañada worries as well that the Philippines would lose its own services sectors to foreign firms right in the country’s own backyard if the negotiators do not watch out for the new modalities in the trade in services.

“As they go via ‘request-offer’ modality where the US and EU are most aggressive, side deals can be made to open up critical sectors in the economy like water and energy distribution, operation of public utilities, etc., which might go into a full-blown negotiations if there are enough requests and offers,” Tañada said.

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