The Department of Agriculture (DA) is trying to gain public support for the ratification of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) by flaunting that the free-trade pact will secure some US$353 million (P15.6 billion) worth of existing agricultural and fishery exports to Japan . But the benefits, if indeed there will be any, will be cornered by corporate agri-businesses and local rural elites, according to independent think-tank IBON Foundation.
IBON research head Sonny Africa pointed out that food exports are actually only a small and diminishing share of total Philippine exports to Japan , accounting for just 7.4% of total exports from 2001 to 2006. But even if agricultural exports would be boosted by the JPEPA, grassroots farmers and farm workers are in practice unlikely to benefit.
Because of backward production methods, most local farms are not in a position to access the Japanese market, since their produce may be unable to meet strict Japanese phystosanitary and other quality standards. Freshness is also an issue given the lack of transport, storage and marketing infrastructure to bring the fruits to Japanese consumers.
Africa said that small farmers and farm workers may even be worse off as the agri-business intensify their use of contract growing and farm lease arrangements to improve their profits. The oppressiveness of such arrangements is well known, he said, as the contract growers bear all the risk of cultivation.
Moreover, small fisherfolk are also likely to be the worst hit of JPEPA as the free-trade pact allows Japan ‘s factory ships and fishing vessels access to the Philippines ‘ exclusive economic zone. A single Japanese factory ship could harvest as much as 50,000 metric tons of tuna a year.
This would worsen the state of municipal fishermen who are already suffering from a declining share in total fisheries production. Over the period 1992 to 2005, the share of municipal fisheries to total fisheries production fell from 41% to just 27%, even as they accounted for 85% of operators in the sector.
In the end, Africa said, the greatest benefit from increased agricultural exports will go to big agri-business transnational corporations (TNCs) and their big local corporate growers. These corporations have vertically integrated operations spanning the growing of the products in plantations, specialized packaging and storage, transportation, shipping and distribution which would allow them to take advantage of export markets. They also have control of the associated capital and industries.
Africa said that if the Senate would ratify the JPEPA despite the groundswell of protest against the trade pact, it would be responsible for further opening the country’s agricultural and marine resources to exploitation by Japanese and other transnational corporations, and sacrificing the welfare of the country’s small farmers and fisherfolk