Amid current political noise brought about by the Arroyo government’s questionable deals with China, Malacañang remains aggressive in its campaign to ratify the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). As the Senate sets the date to vote on the agreement, independent think-tank IBON Foundation urged the senators to heed the experience of other countries that have undertaken free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Japan.

IBON cited Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who said that the Japan-Malaysia Economic Partnership Agreement which was signed in 2005, was “not beneficial to Malaysia”. In June 2006 the Malaysian government announced that it would review the agreement.

Meanwhile, even Indonesian business groups said that bringing Japanese investment and production materials to Indonesia under the Japan-Indonesia Economic Partnership Agreement only meant that “Japan is maintaining its supporting industries back home while eating out of the Indonesian market.”

Activists in Thailand also condemned the government for signing the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) in June 2007 without the approval of parliament, especially since the deal will have “an enormous impact on the country’s economic security” and will turn Thailand into a dumping ground for Japan’s electronic and hazardous waste.

According to IBON, if the Philippines would be “left out” without a JPEPA ratification, it would only be left out of Japan’s plans to build an economic empire in Asia.

Japan, the think-tank said, aims to consolidate and expand its region-wide production base, particularly in the electronics and automotive industries. Tariff cuts and liberal investment rules negotiated by Japan under free trade agreements with East Asian countries make this fragmenting of production processes across the region easier, greatly benefiting Japanese corporations.

Senators studying JPEPA should consider the experience of other East Asian countries that have already undertaken free-trade pacts with Japan before deciding on an agreement that may condemn the Philippines to continued poverty and underdevelopment.

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