Small farmers eye Asean free trade

  • 17 October 2016, Monday
16 Oct 2016


A program of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture aims to usher small Filipino food producers in rural areas into market integration and enable them to take advantage of ”borderless trade” in the Association of South East Asian Nations. 

While Singapore and Thailand take advantage of the more liberalized Asean free trade, the Philippines’ poorer agricultural producers still have to learn to exploit trade tariff eliminations. 

The Asean Merchandise Trade Statistics Database indicated that as of June 2016, Philippine intra-Asean exports stood at $8.536 billion, or only 14.6 percent of intra-Asean exports. However, its intra- Asean imports totaled $17.063 billion, a higher 24.3 percent of intra-Asean imports.

The Philippines had a share of 19.9 percent or $25.6 billion in intra-Asean trade in the same period.    Those that enjoyed higher export from intra- Asean trade were Lao, 71.2 percent; Malaysia, 28.1 percent; Myanmar, 37.5 percent; Singapore, 32.3 percent; and Thailand, 28.9 percent.

The project, which will be co-implemented by International Food Policy Research Institute, will also help small-scale food producers in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. It will be funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

“The effort to integrate smallholder farmers in food production is key to food security in Southeast Asia,” said Searca director Dr. Gil Saguiguit, Jr.

“Smallholder farms and small-scale entrepreneurs can be assisted to maximize opportunities of borderless trade and achieve sustainable and inclusive growth through policies that ensure competitive advantage of Asean member-states.”

Searca, IFPRI, and Ifad held last October 7-8 a workshop to brainstorm on this project called “Agricultural Transformation and Market Integration in the Asean Region: Responding to Food Security and Inclusiveness Concerns.” 

Fifty international experts attended the workshop at Searca’s Los Baños, Laguna headquarters. Multi-sectoral representatives came from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, India and the US.

The project is part of Searca’s mandate to strengthen capabilities of institutions toward inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia. This is accomplished through its work on graduate education in agriculture, research and development, and knowledge management.

The workshop presented an inventory of initiatives of Asean countries in addressing food security and “inclusiveness” which ensures that smaller farmers and entrepreneurs are able to raise their production, income, and trade with larger economic players. 

The 50 experts have started contributing to drafting of workplans at regional and national levels that will ensure small farmers and entrepreneurs are integrated into a bigger “agrifood value chain.”