Int'l trade expert says gov't claims on trade pact 'wrong'
JPEPA to 'override existing laws'
by Ronnel Domingo, INQ7.net (Philippines)
25 October 2006 –
An international trade expert on Wednesday blasted government claims that toxic wastes would not enter the country despite the removal of tariffs on these items under the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).
Jeremy I. Gatdula, a lawyer specializing on trade advisory services, called the government’s logic "simply wrong and beside the point."
He said JPEPA was in fact a treaty and treaties under Philippine jurisdiction are treated as part of Philippine law and as the equal of legislative enactments.
If and when JPEPA takes effect, the treaty would have the effect of overriding previous legislation in conflict with it, said Gatdula.
Environmentalists have decried the inclusion of trade in hazardous and toxic wastes in the JPEPA, which they said would make the country Japan's dump for harmful substances.
But trade and environment officials, including the Philippines' chief negotiator for JPEPA, said the inclusion meant only the removal of useless tariffs and did not mean that prohibited wastes could be shipped into the country.
"(But) to say that toxic wastes would not be allowed in because they are banned is simply not conclusively true because the JPEPA can be said to have overridden the ban (when it has been ratified in the Senate)," Gatdula said.
Also a professorial lecturer on international trade law at the Ateneo de Manila University, Gatdula said further: "To say that in a free trade agreement, all tariffs for products need to be covered and lowered is also not correct."
He went on to explain that what the World Trade Organization rules actually say is that parties have to include "substantially all trade" in a free trade agreement and not "all trade."
Senior Trade Undersecretary Thomas G. Aquino, the chief JPEPA negotiator, said the pact was an all trade agreement which covered all products that both countries trade.
Further, he said the meaning of "substantially all trade" was still subject to discussion even in the WTO because some countries interpret it to mean 60 percent, 70 percent or 80 percent of trade.
"We did not have to agree on an all-trade engagement when there's a way for us to exclude some products, like waste for instance," Gatdula said.
"Even for 'technicality' reasons, it still is hard to understand why toxic wastes were included in JPEPA and at zero tariffs at that."
In a briefing Wednesday, Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila said the inclusion of wastes was just part of the negotiating strategy.
"Like in a game of poker, a good player lays out the weakest cards first to hide the aces," Favila said. "Our ace cards are the products we want to protect."
"All this discussion is simply detracting from the point that this should have all taken place before the JPEPA was signed," Gatdula said.
"This shows the need for improvements in our trade negotiation process as well as the lack of institutionalized forums where proposed agreements could be discussed with stakeholders," he said.
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