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Congress bares 6-yr export program for exporters—Villafuerte

June 30, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 182 views

CONGRESS has come up with a strategic program to round off a Philippine Export Development Program (PEDP).

The initiative is in line with President Bongbong Marcos’ go-signal to strengthen local products’ competitiveness overseas and make the economy more, according to Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte.

One of the measures ratified by the House of Representatives and the Senate before they adjourned was the bill institutionalizing the nearly decade-old “One Town, One Product (OTOP)” initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), to prop up small entrepreneurs and stimulate economic activity, especially in the countryside, said Villafuerte, who had co-authored this measure.

As president of the National Unity Party (NUP), Villafuerte said Congress’ approval of the OTOP bill was “timely as the President had just approved the DTI-drafted PEDP amid a weakening export sector resulting from a looming recession in the US and a global economic slowdown.”

He said the approval of the OTOP bill is also well-timed as the Philippines has just joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the China-led biggest free trade pact that could benefit Filipino exporters by way of possibly higher sales of their lower-taxed goods to other RCEP member-economies.

Villafuerte noted that President Marcos launched just recently the Philippine Export Development Plan (PEDP) 2023-2028 that aims to “bring up our game” to double our country’s export level from $126.8 billion this year to $240.5 billion in 2028.

As DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual pointed out, the PEDP 2023-2028, is aimed at turning the country into an “agile export powerhouse” by boosting the country’s competitiveness in, among others, merchandise exports, given that the Philippines is “a laggard in exports, particularly in the export of goods.

Under the PEDP, 8 sectors are projected to account for 88.5% of Philippine exports by 2028–electronics; IT-BPM (Information Technology and Business Process Management), minerals, agriculture and agri-based exports, transport products, wearables and fashion accessories, chemicals and home furnishings.

And the “OTOP Philippines Act” passed by the Congress will help fix this weakness, as it proposes a package of interventions to improve the quality of products that our towns have to offer and intensify government efforts to market them abroad, said Villafuerte, who had served as three-term governor of Camarines Sur.

“Economic growth will never be truly inclusive,” he said, “without a strategic national program to supercharge MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), considering that they make up 99.5% of local businesses and employ at least 60% of our workers,” he said.

Villafuerte said that making an all-out effort to upgrade the quality of our local goods and aggressively promote them in international markets is crucial to making our merchandise exports more competitive abroad and more resilient in the face of challenges, such as the currently weak demand abroad as a result of a looming US recession and a global downturn.

He observed that the unfavorable first-quarter import-and-export data has prompted the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) to downgrade its trade growth projections for 2023 to just 1% from the previous 3%, as the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported in April a slump in exports to 20.2% from 9.1 percent—the lowest in almost three years.

Both chambers had ratified the final OTOP measure after reconciling House Bill (HB) 1171 and Senate Bill (SB) 1594 before the legislative break.

The 19th Congress will reopen for its Second Regular Session on July 24.

The Congress-ratified bill seeks to boost MSMEs with viable products to sell, he said, by providing them with a package of assistance for developing new and innovative products with significant improvement in the areas of quality, product development, design, packaging, standards compliance, marketability, production capability and brand development.

This measure will institutionalize the DTI’s OTOP Philippines program to serve as the government’s stimulus package for the promotion of MSMEs in the countryside through the use of indigenous raw materials and the utilization of local skills and talents, he said.

Villafuerte said that in his home province of CamSur, for example, there is the P230-million Sustainable Agriculture and Fishery Enterprises (SAFE) Innovation Hub, which is being built as a coconut processing and marketing center in the province’s capital of Pili.

Villafuerte told the President this world-class facility is expected to be fully operational in three to six months.

President Marcos visited this facility last March when he went to CamSur to break ground on a trailblazing, high-rise mass housing project with 10,000 units—the first such joint venture that the Administration has undertaken in partnership with a provincial local government unit (LGU), under its ambitious Pambansang Pabahay Para sa Pilipino (4PH) Program.

As regards the OTOP bill, Villafuerte said that, in partnership with LGUs, this proposed law tasks the DTI to provide beneficiary-MSMEs with assistance in product design, such as in developing new products, expanding existing product lines, and improving packaging or design; in technology updating, such as conducting workshops on new technology procedures and processing to increase production quality and quantity; and in capacity building such as offering training opportunities on improving business skills and providing business counseling.

He said the bill also aims to provide assistance in standards and market compliance, so entrepreneurs can comply with the requirements of DTI-Bureau of Philippine Standards (BPS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOP), and to come up with monitoring and evaluation schemes so the products under the OTOP Philippines line conform to these standards.

Moreover, he said, the bill will also provide market access and promotion assistance to MSME-beneficiaries across different platforms, including multimedia advocacy campaigns, trade fairs and creation of OTOP Philippines Hubs.

He said the OTOP Philippines program shall cover material products and skills-based services known to an area or locality.

Villafuerte said the program will cover agricultural-based products such as coffee, cacao and agri-processed products like processed meats, coconut oil, preserved and processed seafood products; arts and crafts such as coco coir, weaves, bamboo, paper artistry and wood; home and fashion products such as gifts, souvenir items, furniture, ornaments, houseware, garments and textiles; and processed foodstuff such as fruits and nuts, local delicacies, juices, wines, tea, pastries and baked goods, preserved food sauces, cakes, food supplements, and culinary-based specialty products.

It will likewise cover skills-based services and other products, such as hilot or traditional Filipino massage, sculpting, essential oils and other wellness products, industrial goods, soaps and other personal care goods, and cosmetics, he said.

The DTI, which shall be the lead agency in this program, is tasked to establish the OTOP Philippines Trustmark that shall signify that the services and products have been marked excellent in terms of quality, design, value, and marketability, he said.

This Trustmark shall be a symbol representing the best products of the Philippines, he said.

The DTI shall implement the OTOP Philippines program with six other agencies—Cooperative Development Authority (CDA); Departments of Interior and Local Government (DILG); of Agriculture (DA), of Science and Technology (DOST), and of Tourism (DOT); and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

This OTOP bill is among the expanded list of 42 priority bills that President Marcos had endorsed for urgent legislative action, of which 33 were passed by the House of Representatives—under the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez—during the First Regular Session of the 19th Congress.