• PH pressing Tokyo on farm products

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    Manila is now reviewing all possible agricultural products viable for export to Tokyo as part of renegotiations of commitments under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

    In an interview, Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano said that they are continuing negotiations with their Japanese counterparts to increase the number of tariff lines—mainly agricultural and marine products for which the Philippines has competitive advantage.

    “We told them that we want more than 2,100 tariff lines, we want the negotiations to focus on agricultural products and fisheries. This should go side-by-side,” he added.

    Serrano said that Japan has appealed to Philippine negotiators, led by the Department of Trade and Industry, to further reduce the number of tariff lines to a more “manageable” level.

    “They want to further reduce it. So we are now in the process of identifying those agricultural products that we have export interest,” he said.

    He stressed that the DA wants to keep the number of tariff line close to their earlier proposal to give the Philippines more elbowroom in the negotiations.

    “We want them [Japan] to bring down to zero all their agricultural tariffs to reciprocate our own reduction of tariff,” Serrano said, stressing that the Philippines has been ahead in reducing its tariff wall compared to Japan.

    The JPEPA is a bilateral agreement intended to liberalize trade,
    investments and labor relations between the two countries.

    Serrano said that the government is seeking for the review of the JPEPA based on Japan’s failure to fulfill its own commitments under the agreement.

    Besides the increase on the number of tariff line, Manila is also seeking country-specific-quota (CSQ) on various agricultural products that will qualify for preferential rates.

    To recall, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) demanded Tokyo to relax its import restrictions on sugar—pushing for regular sugar quota of 150,000 to 200,000 metric tons and a reduction of tariffs to zero.

    The SRA is also asking for higher premium for the sugar that will be shipped to Japan.

    “A bilateral [agreement]involves CSQs, and it would just be a second resolution to have a CSQs at lower tariff. For me, it would be ideal that Japan to bring down to zero the tariff on all farm products,” Serrano said.

    JPEPA, which entered into force in December 2008, is an important framework for enhancing economic relationship between the two countries. Both sides noted that recent figures related to trade and investment had been very encouraging despite difficult economic situations around the world.

    Japan is the largest importer of Philippine products at $5.19 billion in the first semester of 2013. Philippine imports from Japan amounted to $2.61 billion, making Japan the country’s third top source of imports.

    Japan is the second-largest investor to the Philippines in terms of investments approved by the Investment Promotion Agencies at P4.2 billion in the second quarter of 2013.

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