ASEAN Free Trade Agreement: a friend or a foe

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LA TRINIDAD, Benguet  – The birth of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) stirred varied implications to the vegetable industry’s stakeholders. It presents opportunities to those who are prepared, dilemma to those who are not.

According to the AFTA-Common Effective Preferential Tariff of the Philippine Tariff Commission, AFTA involves the removal of obstacles to freer trade among member states. This includes the abolition of high tariffs or taxes on the traded goods and the scrapping of quantitative restrictions and other non-tariff barriers that limit the entry of imports.

This implies that the ten ASEAN members, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar including the Philippines, have agreed to have equal rights and accessibility to their markets.

As part of the AFTA, the standards for the export of commodities are strictly only for certified safe and healthy organic or conventional grown vegetables following good agricultural practices (GAP).

Amado William, Buguias farmer, commented in the implementation of the AFTA. He said, “Narigatngay ta nu i-impose da djay grading system ta daytoy panaka-ikkat ti reject ket medyo narigat, nadagsen ti rikna ti farmers. Ngem siguro in-innut nga pakasurot ti farmers ta dayjay garud agpreprepare tayo ti kuna tayo nga competitiveness (The imposition of the grading system is hard because the reject will not be bought. It is quite difficult; it is hard on the part of the farmers. But the farmers can slowly adapt to it because, we are preparing for global competiveness).”

The Department of Agriculture (DA), with the help of several agencies and institutions, has sought ways to address this concern.

For the vegetable industry, the DA and its partners have been portioning the Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center (BAPTC) to respond to the full-scale effect of the AFTA.

The BAPTC is a big scale project that was built to provide vegetable farmers with a system and legacy that will truly improve their economic state. The BAPTC involves all stakeholders concerned in the vegetable industry, focusing on linking the farmers to the market. Further, the center was established to improve the farmers’ incomes and protect them from the effect of market price fluctuation.

Dr. Danilo P. Daguio, BAPTC OIC-Chief Operation Officer said that BAPTC is not only a market, but it will also act as a training ground for all the vegetable industry stakeholders for global competitiveness in relation to the AFTA.“Ang BAPTC ay gagamitin po natin yan na para i-implement o isakatuparan po natin yung gusto natin na global competitiveness ng mga farmers natin.”

Moreover, Agricultural Training Institute (ATI)-CAR Director Dr. Arlene Flores said that as of the moment there are already 25 organic organizations and ten of them are working out the certification as organic vegetable producers.

She added that ATIhas already trained 2,013 farmers and farm organizations, hoping that they will be certified soon so that they will become active players in the BAPTC. ATI and BAPTC are also implementing a course towards the same objective – to provide healthy and safe table greens. Thus, they are in partnershipin accrediting and encouraging farmers to be GAP accredited

Daguio added that AFTA had really tightened the market. But it should not be seen as a threat but as a challenge; giving opportunity to the farmers to widen their horizon and embark in a much larger scale of trading. In doing so, farmers; individual or group, must be first accredited.

By JDayao

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