After the ratification by the Philippine Senate of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on 23 February 2023, popular resistance against the treaty intensifies.

“The senators who voted for RCEP deliberately ignored the needs of farmers,” said Danilo Ramos, chairperson of the Kilusan ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines), “It seems that they are oblivious of fate that we suffered as member of the WTO and other free trade agreements, now that the Marcos government joined the RCEP…”

RCEP, now the world’s largest trade agreement, entered into force on 1 January 2022 for ten original parties: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. RCEP then entered into force for the Republic of Korea on 1 February 2022, for Malaysia on 18 March 2022 and for Indonesia on 2 January 2023. Critics state that RCEP benefits China’s belt and road initiative. The deal does not include the US.

“RCEP will further flood our local market with cheap imports at the expense of our farmers and fisherfolk,” PAMALAKAYA (militant fisherfolk alliance) national chairperson Fernando Hicap said in a statement.

Hicap stressed that with RCEP’s ratification, a deluge of imported agricultural goods is anticipated to hit the nation, which will “threaten the local industry that has been neglected of significant government support, and which will be outcompeted by imports.”

Meanwhile, independent think-tank IBON Foundation’s Sonny Africa remarked, “Senators and economic managers are congratulating themselves on ratifying RCEP, bizarrely oblivious to what 30 years of free trade agreements have wrought.”

Philippines is the third worst poverty, fourth worst human development index, and fourth smallest manufacturing sector in ASEAN. Manufacturing down to smallest share of GDP in 70 years, agriculture to its smallest in history,” Africa added.

PAMALAKAYA noted that RCEP will also intensify conversion projects in fishing grounds and coastal areas by Chinese investors and developers, as well as the expansion of private aquaculture in municipal fishing grounds funded by Chinese firms for export.

Policies of import liberalization should end, and the government should focus on strengthening the local industry instead, the group said.

“[B]y breaking free from foreign policies that favor powerful countries such as China, the Philippine government effectively asserts national sovereignty,” Hicap concluded.