When a country signs any kind of agreement, that country is expected to follow not only the letter but also the spirit of that pact. Otherwise, it should not have signed that agreement at all.
A signatory cannot be selective in following the terms and conditions of what it has signed.
For better or worse, the Philippines is a signatory to the World Trade Organization-General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (WTO-GATT). Unless it wants to rescind its membership, the country must therefore follow everything cited in the treaty.
The free trade agreement was hammered out to establish a fair market-oriented agricultural trading system among member-countries and to reform trade through the progressive reduction in agricultural subsidies and protection granted through tariff and non-tariff measures.
Unfortunately, there seem to be some lapses on the part of the Department of Agriculture (DA) when it comes to the government policy on the importation of the Filipinos’ most important staple food—rice.
In a bid to control rice supply, it is now trying to surreptitiously circumvent existing international treaties on free trade under the auspices of the WTO.
Unknown to many, the WTO provision pertaining to the Quantitative Restriction (QR) of rice imports into the Philippines lapsed on June 30 of last year. But the DA is silent about this as it tries to secure an extension of the QR.
Without the QR, the free trade regime takes effect even on rice imports, which remains tightly regulated up to now by the government.
The government-imposed import quota has been effectively dismantled. ln short, the Philippines no longer has the legal right to impose prohibitions on rice importation if it is to abide by the concept of free trade espoused by the WTO.
Following the expiration of the QR last year, the Philippines is bound to provide market access to all member-countries and all trade barriers such as import quotas, import Iicensing, import prohibition and other non-tariff measures should cease to exist.
ln place of the QR is the adoption of the tarrification system which simply imposes ordinary customs duties corresponding to their ad valorem equivalents on the importation of rice and other agricultural products.
With the lifting of the trade quota or quantitative restriction on the importation of agricultural and meat products, the Philippines is now bound to remove all trade barriers even on the importation of tightly regulated rice products as provided by the Agreement on Agriculture forged in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTN) of the WTO.
While sustaining restrictions on rice importation seems popular enough—there is no shortage of nationalists, non-government organizations and cause-oriented groups to support the stand—this would damage the credibility of the Philippines as a member of the WTO. The Philippines could face sanctions for its refusal to honor its commitment with the WTO.
The country has no choice. There are no shades of grey. Either follow the pact or pull out.