December 2, 2023

The League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Area, Inc. said following the country’s signing to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, there have been reports of a flood of smuggled vegetables in various markets in the country.

In a letter addressed to Benguet Vice Gov. Ericson Felipe, the league said it has been receiving complaints on imported carrots, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower flooding the markets in Manila, Batangas, and Sariaya, Quezon.

SOARING VEGGIE PRICES — Fresh vegetable varieties are on display for sale at the Baguio City Public Market, as prices are up because of the continuous increase in the prices of petroleum products adding to the lack of sunny days being experienced in this northern part of the country. — Mau Victa

“The reported sightings of the imported veggies were claimed by Manila wholesalers as legal because they have the permits. We fear that this RCEP may be abused/used as an excuse to the proliferation of smuggled vegetables,” the league stated.

The Senate approved on Feb. 21 the resolution concurring with the country’s ratification of the RCEP on Sept. 21. The implementing rules and regulations was passed on April 4 and officially took effect on June 2 despite outcry from farmers and fisherfolks. 

The RCEP is seen to allow a better flow of trade and lower to zero tariffs on some commodities being traded among the 15 participating countries – the 10 ASEAN member states, and trading partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

The trade agreement has allowed the legal entry of fresh agricultural products which include cabbage, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, garlic, and onions. Six of these, the league said, are being produced in the Cordillera.

Due to this, the price of vegetables, particularly the medium-size carrots, were sold for as low as P5 per kilo, which is way below the cost of production.

The big-size carrots range from P20 to P130 but due to the past typhoons and monsoon rains, only 10 percent of the total production of carrots were sold from P60 to P130 per kilo.

The league said buyers in Manila and Pasay have stopped ordering broccoli and cauliflower, preferring the imported ones.

Also, disposers and buyers have been complaining of glut even if the volume of vegetables are not that high.

The league is monitoring the effect on local potatoes as they received reports of imported ones entering the market.

The highland potatoes are priced as high as P130 per kilo, but only a fraction of the total production was sold at that price. Most of the local potatoes currently sold in the market were harvested early as their leaves were damaged by recent typhoons.

At an average, the league delivers 1.7 million kilograms of assorted highland vegetables daily under normal circumstances. During peak season, the league recorded as high as 3.3 million kg. a day to various markets in the country.

The league asked the Benguet provincial board to intervene in the enforcement of RCEP by requesting that vegetable entries in the country must be limited to processed only and fresh vegetables should not be included.

The provincial board was also asked to help in the review of the implementing rules and regulations, especially on the requirements of the entry of vegetables and monitor its strict implementation and its process of drafting and that public consultation should be taken into account.

Board Member Ruben Paoad, who is the head of the committee on agriculture said they will still study the viable actions that the Benguet board can do to assist the league.

He said they have calendared the league’s letter for their discussion at their regular board meeting on Oct. 2.

Twenty senators have voted in favor of Senate Resolution 485 ratifying the RCEP agreement while Sen. Risa Hontiveros voted against, and Sen. Imee Marcos abstained. – Ofelia C. Empian