Assistant US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis’s visit to the country comes amid renewed US push to consolidate, deepen, and expand its role and influence not only in the Philippines but in the Asia Pacific. His visit underscores the less talked about but is actually the underlying reason behind the campaign of the Obama administration to increase US military presence in the region.
The US is facing its worst economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression. It is desperate more than ever to seek new trade and investment opportunities for American goods and capital. It is aggressively looking for more natural and human resources to exploit in a vain attempt to reverse its economic decline. The Obama administration sees these opportunities for the beleaguered US economy in the Asia Pacific. As Secretary Hillary Clinton of the US State Department noted, the Asia Pacific will yield the biggest returns in US investments at a time when the country is facing a severe crisis. The region, said Clinton, hosts vast markets and investment areas that are crucial to the US’s own economic recovery.
Marantis is here in the Philippines to push this US agenda of securing new markets and investment areas. Specifically, he will engage Filipino trade officials in further discussions about the possibility of the Philippines joining the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. The TPP is the newest major project of the US to push for the dismantling of the remaining trade and investment barriers in the region. With fresh liberalization commitments in the World Trade Organization (WTO) successfully derailed by people’s resistance, the US has been forced to rely on bilateral and regional free trade agreements such as the TPP.
However, the country’s bitter experience in more than three decades of liberalization provides more than enough reason to oppose the TPP or any new free trade and investment deals with the US. The wanton plunder of our natural resources and the massive destruction of our productive economic sectors under the WTO should compel policy makers to dismiss the illusion of prosperity and development that the TPP promises to bring.
The ongoing row with the US on the issue of handling frozen meat illustrates how so-called free trade deals undermine domestic producers, the economy, and the country’s sovereign right to determine its policies. American trade negotiators have resorted to blackmail and warned that they will block the Philippines’ bid under the WTO to extend the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports which will expire this June if we will not withdraw the policy of labeling frozen meat and meat products to ensure safety and quality. Such policy, according to the US, hurts American exporters of meat to the Philippines because it “discriminates against imported meat products”. Liberalization has destroyed the country’s agricultural sector and made us a net food importer from a net food exporter, including on rice. But we are being forced to give up even the token safety nets allowed by the WTO to protect our rice sector through the QR at the expense of our rice producers.
The raging global crisis has underlined the lesson that we need to build internal growth sources instead of relying on external markets as promoted by the WTO and now the TPP. We should end our membership to existing free trade deals and reject any new agreement for more liberalization. We should assert our sovereignty to decide on our own domestic economic policies and defend our local industries from undue foreign competition. #