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PIA Press Release

Yap clarifies RP-China bilateral trade agreements

MANILA (PNA) (19 June) -- Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap on Sunday clarified the controversial bilateral trade agreements signed January 2007 between the Philippines and the Peoples Republic of China.

Task Force Food Sovereignty (TFFS), which is composed of farmers, fisherfolk, non-government organizations (NGOs), academe, and peasant sector as members, has called for the total scrapping of the RP-China agriculture and fisheries agreements, which, according to them, "favor and promote investments of Chinese corporations at the expense of the rights of the landless peasants and poor farmers and fishers in the Philippines."

According to them, the most questionable of these deals include the proposed establishment of huge agribusiness farms and processing plants using up more than one million hectares of land for the production of hybrid rice, corn and sorghum and biofuel crops.

These agriculture deals, the task force said, are aimed at developing export-oriented production base with little link to the domestic economy, but with grave implications on agrarian reform, food security, rural livelihoods and environment.

Yap however said "there is nothing in the contract that showed the government is committed to surrendering tracts or areas of lands to Chinese corporation. That must come across very clear."

He stressed that what the Philippine government has committed to foreign investors, be it Chinese or any other nationality, was to assist them in locating agri-business lands where they can put their investments.

"We will facilitate, we will assist any foreign investor be they Chinese or any other nationality. We will assist them in trying to locate agribusiness lands in which they can invest in. I believe this is a commitment of not only the Department of Agriculture but the entire government, Yap said.

"I cannot overemphasize the fact that there is nothing in the agreement that showed the government has already delineated any portion of Philippine land and is offering this and surrendering this for Chinese investment. So, that has to be cleared because that is factual. I believe that it's very wrong for those groups to say that it's unconstitutional... that we have already surrendered lands," he added.

He cited a data released by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in 2006 which states that of all the total loans released by the country's banking sector, only three-and-a-half percent went to agriculture.

"It is very clear that not enough private investments are going into agriculture. So, if 10-20 years ago we asked Taiwanese companies to invest in techno parks or Japanese companies to come and build car plants, how different is it from us now asking Chinese companies to come and invest in developing Philippine agribusiness lands. They can't take it home with them. They cannot own them because under the Philippine Constitution, foreigners cannot own land," Yap said.

"Why is it that the Philippine financial sector not meant for Philippine agriculture? Why is that only three-and-a-half percent of total loan are going to agriculture? Agriculture is 20 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product) and yet three percent lang ang pumupunta," he added.

With regards to the issue of transparency, which according to the task force, access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to said agreements have not been made available to the public, Yap said the agricutural and fisheries agreements entered into by Chinese investors to the Philippines are private contracts.

"Government is happy if there are private investors who would like to invest in agriculture. But I cannot force them (private firms)," he said.

"The most and what I am obligated to do is to be totally transparent about the process. These are not government contracts. No government fund are being expended. We attract investors to do business here. If the issues are the rules are not cleared, that is the reason we are undergoing right now. We are trying to see how to do this properly within the confine of our laws, within the constraint of our laws," he added.

Yap stressed the government wants to promote the bilateral trade and development in agricultural, fisheries and food products as a means to attain food security, create jobs and alleviate poverty.

Food sufficiency and security, as well as the welfare of agrarian reform beneficiaries and other small farm stakeholders, were the primary objectives of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in forging its array of agribusiness agreements with China, he said.

Yap further said that in entering into these agreements, the DA has ensured that the rules and mechanisms that will safeguard "our farmers and our sovereign interests" are in place and protected by existing Philippine laws and regulations. (PNA) [top]

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