THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it has secured the commitment of its Spanish counterpart to boost agriculture trade and cooperation between Manila and Madrid.
Following his seven-day visit to Spain, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said he has agreed to enhance partnerships in plant and animal sciences, organic farming and coastal management, among other areas of collaboration, in an effort to strengthen the long-standing economic interchange between the two agriculture-based economies.
Alcala highlighted the review of the memorandum of agreement on agriculture and fisheries signed by the two countries in 2007, which could enhance the program’s implementation through the inclusion of scientific exchange and technical materials and information, and the conduct of market promotion activities.
The DA chief said the review can be done through the embassies and will serve as the agenda during the 2nd Joint Committee Meeting to be hosted by the Philippines in the first quarter of 2015.
“We shared the observation that the relationship between Spain and the Philippines should be expanded and intensified given the countries’ strong historical ties,” said Alcala.
At the same time, he reported that Spain’s Agriculture Minister Isabel Garcia Tejerina pledged her government’s support to allow the Philippines access to the European Union’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), a scheme that would allow the country to enjoy more tariff reductions for goods entering the 28-member trade bloc.
Tuna is one of the commodities expected to benefit from the scheme. Current tariff for Philippine tuna stands at 20.5 percent; it will go down to zero once the country enters the GSP+ regime.
Initial government projections indicate that Philippine exports to the EU could grow by 611.8 million euros, equivalent to a 12 percent increase over 2012 Philippine exports to the EU. Product sectors with the highest projected increases are animal or vegetable fats and oils; prepared foodstuffs; textiles and garments; footwear and umbrellas; and chemical products.
A projected increase in exports would also mean more livelihood and income opportunities in the countryside, Alcala added.
Alcala said Tejerina also committed to provide technical assistance to the Philippines in its efforts to fulfill the requirements of the European Commission in the campaign against illegal fishing. The Commission recently announced the possibility of an import ban against the Philippines, notably on tuna, if it fails to curb illegal fishing.
“The Minister told us Spain can share its sustainable fishing technologies and practices to Filipinos, and we gladly welcomed it,” Alcala said.
Alcala, in turn, assured Tejerina that the Philippines has been working to meet EU standards on illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. He mentioned the implementation of closed season for sardine fishing in the Zamboanga and Visayan Seas during spawning period in previous years to allow it to multiply. Since tuna feeds on sardines, the presence of more sardines encourages the tuna population to stay within Philippine waters.
Alcala also noted that the research ship provided by Spain to the Philippines has helped in mapping out the country’s vast marine and fishery resources to make more fishing sustainable.
While in Madrid, Alcala also met with Alberto Virella, Director for Cooperation for Asia and Africa of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).
AEICID, according to Alcala, agreed to consider his proposal to undertake agriculture-related livelihood initiatives in conflict- and disaster-prone areas in the Philippines, in coordination with the AEICID Philippine office based at the Embassy of Spain in Makati City.
AECID funded two livelihood and marine management projects in Bicol and CARAGA regions, which both ended in 2010 and resulted in increased production of cassava granules, coco coir and other focus commodities, and boosted in fish catch in covered areas by 20 percent.
Alcala was in Spain last week to lead DA’s delegation that staged agribusiness roadshows in Barcelona and Madrid as part of the government’s reintegration program for overseas Filipino workers.
He also met with several potential importers of Filipino agri-fishery products and conducted a tour of the two biggest wholesale markets in Spain, in Barcelona and Madrid, as well as retail outlets in the Spanish capital, to check on the products that could be supplied by the Philippines.
In Cordova, Alcala visited the facilities of COVAP or the Cooperativa Agroganadera del Valle de los Pedroches (Covap), to observe its best practices in farm-to-pork approach in cattle and hog-raising. COVAP produces and exports hams and Ibérico meat products worldwide.