Soaring trade deficits
The rush of imports has also sent trade deficit records soaring. Based on the monitoring of IBON Foundation, , the Philippines in 1997 had an agricultural trade deficit of $764 million. By 2002, this went up to $794 million. By 2007 to 2009, agricultural trade balance recorded deficits at an average of $1.9 billion. In 2010, the record pegged at $2,179.60 million. All in all, the country incurred a negative balance of trade in agriculture at an average amounting to $1,233.55 million since the country’s entry to WTO in 1995 until 2010.
In 1998 alone, the agriculture sector lost 710,000 jobs. The share of agriculture in the economy also fell from representing a 21.6 percent share of gross domestic product (GDP) from 1991 to 1995, to a measly 13.9 percent in 2010. Over the same period, the share of direct agricultural jobs in total employment steeply fell from 44.9 percent to 33.2 percent.
Stop the fish import policy
Pamalakaya, for its part, is fighting against the plan of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to impose an across-the-nation fish ban so it could justify the influx of and deluge of local markets with foreign fish imports.
“The country’s 1.8 million Filipino fishermen will be negatively affected by this. It’s irresponsible and anti-Filipino; it’s a traitorous policy of the national government that favors foreign fish importers,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France.
According to reports, the Aquino administration is making the proposal to further liberalized the fishing industry to supposedly address what it sees as a possible drop in local fish stocks due to overfishing and the plan to impose fish bans in 10 of the 13 major fishing grounds in the country.
The BFAR is reportedly putting the blame on small fishermen. Based on its national stock assessment program, of 13 fishing grounds that had been mapped in the country, 10 areas are “very heavily exploited.”These areas have over 70 fishermen per square kilometer. The agency seeks to lessen fishing activities in certain areas in the future as it expects a reduction in the catches. It asserted that this would be disadvantageous to consumers and manufacturers of fish products.
In the meantime, Pamalakaya reported that current regulations allow only frozen and chilled fish products to enter Philippine markets, but under the proposed amendments of BFAR, imported fresh fish may also be sold in public wet markets.
Targeting poor fisherfolk
“The national stock assessment of BFAR is biased against small local fisherfolk. The truth is, municipal fisheries, which are composed of 1.3 million small fisherfolk only cover 50 percent of the total fish catch production yearly. Commercial fishing which is composed only of 50,000 operators get the other 50 percent of the total annual fish catch. The BFAR is promoting a nationwide displacement of small fisherfolk by peddling this lies to the Filipino public,” France asserted.
The group also said that the WTO’s fish importation policy was also to behind the BFAR’s proposal. It said that it will stand against the proposal that will allow the massive importation of fishery products from China, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Japan, South Korea, United States of America, Thailand and 13 other countries, saying the unbridled procurement of foreign fish products had adversely affected the livelihood of small Filipino fisherfolk in the country.
“The Aquino administration, the BFAR and the agriculture department should be stopped from enforcing a nationwide fish ban to justify anarchic importation of fishery products. They should stop draining the country’s dollar reserves to pay for heavy importation. The 1.8 million full time and part time work force in the fisheries sector can produce and meet the fish needs of 99 million Filipinos and there is no need to rely in heavy importation, ” it said.
Increasing fish imports killing the local fishing industry
At the House of Representatives, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano filed a resolution against the fish importation scheme. In it, he cited a recent report also from the BFAR which said that the marine fisheries is a growing industry. In the report, the agency said that from 2004-2010, there was an increasing trend in fish production.
“Fisheries production grew remarkably by 35 per cent from 3.93 million metric tons in 2004 to 5.080 million metric tons in 2009. The average annual production growth rate within that period was at 5.8 per cent. In 2010, the total volume of fisheries production was 5.162 million metric tons and grew by 1.61 per cent,” it stated.
The lawmaker also noted that the Philippines ranked 6th among the top fish producing countries in the world with its total production of 4.97 million metric tons of fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants (including seaweeds). The production constitutes 3.12 per cent of the total world production of 159.1 million metric tons.
“But the importation of fish and fishery products remains massive and continuous. This is hurting the local fishing industry,” said Mariano.
In 2009, total fish imports have an aggregated value of $152.25 million out of the $ 223.3 million total import value.
This was contributed by three major commodities in chilled/frozen fish (57 percent), prawn feeds (4 percent) as well as flour, meals and pellets of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks fit and unfit for human consumption (7 per cent). Chilled/frozen fish comprise of tuna, mackerel and sardines amounting to a total of $ 127.1 million worth in imports.
“The rising scale of fishery importation hampers the livelihood of small fisherfolk and local fish producers. It promotes competition which is favorable only to subsidized imported fish products and disadvantageous to unprotected and unsubsidized local products. It entails perpetual loss of livelihood and displacement to local fish producers in the country whose local fishing businesses are effectively edged out by the avalanche of cheap fish imports in the local market,” Mariano said.