BENGUET has a steady supply of highland vegetables for sale in the lowland markets despite weather concerns in the past few months, the Department of Agriculture- Cordillera (DA-CAR) assured last week.
However, while supplies are stable and sufficient, sales are taking a hit due to the continued importation of vegetables from overseas, members of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Area, Inc. (LALTVTA) claim.
Agot Balanoy, public relations officer of the LALTVTA, previously claimed that losses to the Benguet farmers and vegetable traders amounted to as much as P2.5 million a day, or 40 percent of average profits from previous years, as cheaper imported vegetables flood the markets and reduce the demand for locally-grown highland produce.
While no longer directly attributed to the smuggled vegetable controversies of last year, LALTVTA claims that the current influx of overseas vegetables is the result of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) taking effect.
LALTVTA, represented by its president, Nora Ganase, and her Divisoria (Manila) cluster counterpart, Rodolfo Bulawan, sought to have the government act on and review the RCEP terms, which the senate agreed to amid objections from the agricultural sector, in order to prevent the trade deal from putting the local agricultural sector in jeopardy.
LALTVTA has petitioned DA Cordillera head Jennilyn M. Dayawan and the Benguet Provincial Board led by Benguet Vice Governor Ericson L. Felipe to take some form of action to try and reduce the volume of vegetable imports, warning that losing the market for their produce “will eventually kill the local vegetable and farming industry.”
Among LALTVTA’s requests are to revise the pact to only allow the importation of processed vegetables, ensuring that locally-made fresh but unprocessed vegetables like the LALTVTA trade still have a market. The league also sought to implement a price floor and ceiling cap on vegetables to ensure that market and price fluctuations do not lead to much lower wholesale local crop purchase prices that drastically reduce the farmers’ revenue.
The Philippines ratified the RCEP in February of 2023, with it only taking effect six months after ratification this year.
The RCEP is a free trade agreement between member-countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) with Japan, South Korea, China, Australia and New Zealand, which facilitates easier exchange of big volumes of products and services.
While not limited to vegetables, the RCEP has been blamed by the LALTVTA for the current lack of marketability of highland produce.
Imported carrots, potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower have already entered markets in Metro Manila, Quezon and Batangas in great supply as part of the RCEP, which has taken away from the local highland vegetable trade that typically provided these vegetables to these markets.