Sunday, December 11, 2005

WTO killing our vegetables

December 5, 2005


The vegetables Filipinos consume may soon come only from Taiwan, mainland China, or the US rather than the Cordilleras or Ilocos as vegetable imports continue to push out local produce from the domestic market, according to independent think-tank IBON Foundation.

Since the country became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, imported vegetables have flooded local markets. From 42,000 metric tons (MT) in 1995, vegetable importation had grown 174% to 115,000 MT by 2000, five years after the country's accession to the WTO. Onion imports climbed sharply from only 50 metric tons in 1995 to 8,160 MT in 2004. Similarly, garlic imports skyrocketed from almost none in 1991-1994 to 23,130 MT last year. And these figures do not even reflect the vast quantities more that were smuggled into the country as a result of more liberal importation policies.

Because they were heavily subsidized and were able to enter the country almost tax-free, these imports could be sold more cheaply than local produce, which receives virtually no support from the government. Market prices thus became distorted. For example, at one time imported lettuce was selling at only P90 per kilo compared with P200 per kilo for local lettuce.

Hence, local farmers' incomes are falling. Pre-WTO, garlic and onion farmers earned between P40,000 to P100,000 per hectare. After the country became a member of the multilateral trade group, earnings of onion and garlic farmers fell by 60% and 80%, respectively. As a result, some 1.8 million farmers have lost their livelihood since the country became a member of the WTO.

Although cheap imported vegetables may seem like a boon to consumers with limited incomes, imports actually threaten the country's food security by making us dependent on food coming from other countries instead of developing self-sufficiency in agriculture. Unhampered importation also destroys farmers' livelihoods and worsens rural poverty. More than 4 out of 10 of the population in the countryside are poor.

IBON thus calls on government not to accede to further liberalization of the agricultural sector at the upcoming 6th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Hong Kong. Further, government should reverse liberalization by raising tariffs in order to protect the country's farmers from the influx of imports.

IBON, a member of the local anti-WTO network Resist WTO! and the global coalition Our World Is Not for Sale, joins the call of grassroots organizations worldwide for agriculture to be taken out of the WTO. (end)

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