GMA wants Senate to ratify economic deal with Japan

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday renewed her push for the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement as the Japanese Diet has already ratified the free trade accord.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government sticks to its commitment to implement the agreement signed early last year which would pave the way for the free movement of goods and services between the Philippines and Japan.

“We will again ask the Senate to ratify the JPEPA, because as far as Japan is concerned theirs is ratified and all their commitment are automatically legislated,” the President said.

“It’s not like our system where when we have to ratify a treaty we still have to legislate. The only thing that is considered to set the legislation to motion is our ratification.”

Under the pact, almost 95 percent of all Philippine exports to Japan will enjoy duty-free privileges in exchange for Manila’s scrapping of import tariffs on Tokyo-made automobiles.

The Philippines is committed to reduce the tariffs on completely built-up units with engine sizes of 3 liters and below from the current level of 30 percent to 29 percent by 2006; gradually decreasing to 26 percent by 2007, 23 percent by 2008, and 20 percent by 2009. Tariffs would be eliminated in 2010.

The tariff elimination will have to be extended, though, pending the ratification by the Philippine Senate.

The accord is being questioned by local think tanks, saying the provisions are lopsided in favor of Japan.

For example, fruit products from the Philippines such as bananas will still be levied a tariff rate of 10 to 20 and will only remove it completely 11 years after the agreement comes into force.

The Philippine government also failed to strike a favorable agreement for the country’s tuna exports which would only be up for discussion five years after the agreement has taken effect.

Japan is also not committed to removing quota restrictions and reducing tariffs on herrings, cod, sardines and mackerel—premium export products of the Philippines to neighboring countries.

As for services, Filipino nurses and caregivers can only begin working as professionals in Japan by 2010 as they must first finish a three-year language course and technical training as well as pass Tokyo’s licensure exam for medical practitioners.

A combined annual slot of only 1,000 has been given to Filipino nurses and caregivers under the recently signed but yet to be ratified accord.

Despite the limit, the treaty has been widely seen as a shot in the arm for the local nursing industry as Japan opened its doors for foreign caregivers, Filipinos in particular, given its aging population.

The exams that Filipino applicants must pass are the same tests given to Japanese nurses and caregivers, and while the language requirement is highly restrictive, it will make Filipino nurses and caregivers at par with their Japanese counterparts who enjoy a starting salary of 193,924 yen or about P85,000 per month.

Aside from the JPEPA ratification, Mrs. Arroyo said she will also work for the passage of the bill on cheap medicine, which she described as “beautiful.”