June 19, 2024 Jester P. Manalastas 245 views

SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez has called for the resumption of the general review of the Philippines-Japan Economic Agreement (PJEPA) in a bid to eliminate or reduce tariffs on key Philippine agricultural products.

Romualdez made the call during a meeting with Japanese lawmakers comprising the Philippines-Japan Parliamentarians’ Friendship Society (PJPFS), led by Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama, a member of the House of Councilors, National Diet, at the Japan’s parliamentary building late Tuesday afternoon.

“We believe that a review of the [PJEPA], especially after the recent trilateral agreements, would show support and solidarity. This request aligns with our past efforts and aims to foster a better and more conducive relationship between our countries,” Romualdez told PJPFS officials.

He expressed hope the review will result in improved terms for Philippine agricultural products, particularly bananas.

This, as he noted the decline in the Philippines’ market share of bananas in Japan, from a robust 90 percent down to 78 percent.

The Philippines is looking to secure a larger share of Japan’s lucrative agriculture market for Filipino farmers and fisherfolk, as Japan is one of the largest importers of agricultural products in the world.

The aim is to expand Philippine export opportunities for various fish and tropical fruits such as pineapples, avocados, mangoes, durian, mangosteen, and okra.

Speaker Romualdez cited the importance of Japan as a trade partner, noting that it is not only a top provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA) but also the second-largest trading partner of the Philippines.

However, he pointed out that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade between the two countries has decreased by 12 percent.

“This decline is not necessarily due to specific circumstances but rather the pandemic and current regional conditions,” he added.

Chairman Moriyama, a former agriculture minister, acknowledged the request to resume the PJEPA review and expressed his willingness to consider it.

Philippine Ambassador to Japan Mylene Garcia-Albano, who was also present during the meeting, shared concerns about the significant drop in banana exports to Japan over the last few years.

“The majority of our banana exports come from our region. We are very concerned with the decline in banana exports to Japan,” Ambassador Garcia-Albano, a former Davao City lawmaker during the meeting, said.

“We hope that with the general review of PJEPA, we can address the differences in tariffs imposed on bananas, aiming to level the playing field with other countries like Vietnam, which enjoys a zero percent tariff,” she added.

Chairman Moriyama further noted that persevering through this challenge could make Philippine bananas more competitive in the Japanese market.

The issue of improved terms for Philippine agricultural products falls under the purview of the PJEPA, which remains the best bilateral track to pursue mutually beneficial commitments.

Despite both the Philippines and Japan being parties to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the PJEPA is seen as a more effective platform for addressing this specific trade issue.

Speaker Romualdez’s call for a swift PJEPA review during his Tokyo visit underscores the ongoing efforts to support the Philippine agricultural industry and promote equitable trade relations with Japan.

The House leader looks forward to a favorable response from the Japanese government, considering that Philippine-Japan bilateral relations are at an all-time high following the historic trilateral summit among the Philippines, Japan, and the United States in Washington, D.C. last April.

Chairman Moriyama was joined in the meeting by other members of Japan Parliament, Vice Chairman Shinsuke Okuno, Director General Hirofumi Ryu, Secretary General Taku Otsuka, Deputy Secretary General Yamato Aoyama, and Executive Directors Kuniko Inoguchi, Rui Matsukawa, Kaname Tajima, Hideki Miyauchi, and others.

The other Philippine House delegation included Majority Leader Manuel Jose “Mannix” M. Dalipe, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr., Deputy Speaker David “Jay-jay” Suarez, House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Zaldy Co, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, House Secretary General Reginald “Reggie” S. Velasco, House Sergeant-at-Arms retired PMGEN Napoleon C. Taas, and other House officials.