Saturday, September 09, 2006


IBON Foundation
September 9, 2006

The upcoming Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) will bring dubious gain to the local economy while severely limiting government’s policy options to develop domestic industries.

The agreement, which is reportedly set to be signed at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Helsinki, Finland on Sep. 10-11, 2006, has been under negotiation away from public scrutiny for the last four years. Officials provide few details but it is reported that the agreement will cut import tariffs on industrial goods by 90% within 10 years and provide concessions for Japanese direct investment in the domestic automobile and electronics industries.

The Philippines will abolish tariffs on at least 60% of its steel imports from Japan. Tariffs on Japan-made cars will also be fully eliminated in 2010. In exchange, Japan will lower tariffs on Philippine bananas and pineapples, while the Philippines removes tariffs on Japanese grapes and pears. Japan will also allow a year-on-year quota of some 200 Filipino nurses and caregivers. It had also been reported that the JPEPA would remove mutual restrictions on Japanese and Philippine investors, as well as prohibit performance requirements.

Both governments have already said that the agreement will be positive for both the Philippines and Japan in terms of trade and investment. However the JPEPA is actually an unequal agreement between unequal parties that, moreover, is biased for the more powerful Japanese economic interests. The biggest gainers are Japanese investors who will keep setting up export enclaves in the Philippines that are unintegrated with the domestic economy. They will continue to import most of their inputs and components, exploit fiscal incentives, stifle workers’ rights to organize, and hire labor as cheap as they can get. The Philippines will also be foregoing millions in dollars in tariff revenues from Japanese imports.

Japan and the Philippines are such grossly unequal economies that nominally equal terms can never mean a “level playing field”. The Japanese economy (US$4.4 trillion GNI in 2004) is 50 times larger than the Philippines’ and its GDP per capita is 35 times larger. Japan accounts for some one-third of foreign investments (with a cumulative US$3.5 billion in Japanese investments 2003) in the Philippines and one-fifth of its external trade (with US$14.2 billion in total Japan-Philippines trade in 2004). And yet, for instance, the country’s domestic industrial base has continued to deteriorate despite the majority of Japanese investments being in the manufacturing sector.

The Philippine government is surrendering policy tools under the JPEPA that, ironically, Japan itself used heavily. The Japanese government greatly protected its domestic industries from the late 19th century until the early 1980s. Japan’s industrial might in cars, trucks, shipbuilding, computers and consumer electronics was built up in through almost a century of sustained intervention and protection, especially in their early stages. Average weighted industrial tariffs reached as high as 30-40 percent. The Japanese government required technology transfers from US, French and UK investors, or brazenly pirated technology through so-called “reverse engineering”. Government agencies were obliged to procure goods and services strictly from Japanese firms. Japanese technological and productive capacity would not have developed if not for these many decades of active state support.

The far-reaching JPEPA is also the dangerous first step towards complete government renunciation of developing the Philippine economy. What little public information there is about JPEPA indicates about a dozen areas for liberalization that collectively go far beyond anything proposed even in the currently dormant World Trade Organization (WTO). These include: the elimination or reduction of tariffs on industrial products and agriculture, forestry and fishery products; liberalization of services sectors such as construction, outsourcing, air transport, health related and social services, tourism and travel-related services, maritime transport services, telecommunications and banking; national treatment, MFN Treatment and performance requirement prohibitions; and supposedly easier entry of qualified Filipino nurses and certified caregivers.

The JPEPA also includes various provisions on: Government Procurement, Competition Policy, Intellectual Property, Dispute Avoidance and Settlement, Improvement of the Business Environment, Mutual Recognition and Bilateral Cooperation.

As the country’s first full-fledged bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), the benchmark it sets for liberalization will determine the shape of all FTAs to come. If the Philippine government sets high trade and investment liberalization standards in JPEPA then it will be obliged to also give these to partners in subsequent FTAs lest it be accused of discrimination. The country’s negotiating position in all subsequent trade and investment agreements will be gravely undermined. The end result of the JPEPA and other such agreements will be to shut the door to real domestic industrial growth and economic progress.

The government is also treating our health professionals and caregivers as mere commodities when it touts the “quotas” supposedly being given by Japan for these jobs as a good thing. The reality is that these mostly women health workers and caregivers will bear the burden of overcoming formidable language, certification and even racist and patriarchal barriers. Because of its desperation for quick sources of foreign exchange, the Philippine government is placing the burden on the cheap export of skilled Filipinos. It should instead focus on creating the strong domestic economy that will create opportunities for Filipinos at home.

The Philippine government affirms its commitment to the destructive policies of neoliberal globalization. Instead of using the collapse of the WTO Doha Round talks as an opportunity to rethink its commitment to neoliberal globalization, it is giving up its sovereignty piecemeal on a country-by-country basis through bilateral and regional economic agreements.

Japan, on the other hand, makes further headway in consolidating Southeast Asia as a source of cheap agricultural, mineral and other raw materials for Japan as well as a captive market for Japanese industrial goods. Aside from the Philippines, Japan has already signed or is negotiating FTAs with Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Vietnam. #

Medical workers may be losers in FTA

Japan Times
Medical workers may be losers in FTA
By Glenn Omanio
9 September 2006

MANILA (Kyodo) Philippine officials may be upbeat about finalizing the bilateral free-trade agreement with Japan this weekend, but there is some concern that the country’s medical workers will be the losers in the deal.

The FTA will mean freer movement of people between the two countries, something the Philippines welcomes. Professionals, including doctors and nurses, are eager to get high-paying jobs in wealthy countries.

Japan is keen to follow other rich countries by having foreign nurses fill the shortage at home and has opened its labor market to Filipino nurses and caregivers.

But Filipinos may be in for a big disappointment as Japan has put in the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement that it will only accept caregivers who are college graduates, and nurses who are fluent in Japanese and can pass its nursing license examination — in Japanese.

Analysts say Japan’s position of only giving visas to health workers who can speak Japanese could backfire as the rising demand for health workers in wealthy nations, also facing rapidly aging populations and falling fertility rates, will mean stiff competition to get workers from poorer countries.

The agreement does not specify the number of nurses Japan will accept, but media reports said that Tokyo will set an initial cap of 500 nurses per year and will increase the number depending on the need.

"Japan seemingly wants to preserve the homogeneity of its people. In a very global world, it is an exception. Japan should learn from other countries on their openness in accepting other people," said Federico Macaranas, head of the Manila-based Asian Institute of Management Policy Center.

Macaranas said that while fluency in the local language is important for nurses to perform their duties, Japan could relax this requirement to allowing non-Japanese speakers to serve English-speaking Japanese people.

He said many English speakers in Japan are wealthy and can afford to hire private nurses and caregivers.
Marilyn Yap, president of the Philippine Nurses Association, said the language requirement is harsh and decreases the chances of Filipino nurses passing the national exam.

"In order for you to take the Japanese board exam, you have to master the language. It takes time. That’s our concern," Yap said.

An indication of just how hard a Japanese exam would be for Filipino nurses is the the pass rate for information technology workers, who also must take a certification exam. A average of 5 percent of Filipino applicants have passed the exam since it was offered in 2002.

In an test program in the mid-1990s, only one of 13 Filipino nurses finished the two-year Japanese language program and passed the national nursing exam.

Yap said Japan will have to compete with other countries in attracting Filipino nurses and caregivers, adding Japan should offer higher salaries and better nonmonetary packages to compensate for the language requirements.

Given the same salary and work benefits, Filipino nurses, most who speak English fluently, would rather choose English-speaking countries such as the United States or Britain over Japan because of the language barrier.

"It remains to be seen if Filipino nurses will be accepting offers to work in Japan. I am reluctant," Yap of the nurses association said. "If there are any other options easier, I’d take that."

Every year, as many as 8,000 Filipino nurses leave for Saudi Arabia, continental Europe and the United States, according to Philippine labor statistics.

The United States remains the favorite destination. Nurses can bring their families and they earn as much as
$4,000 a month compared to the $ 200 they get at home, studies show.

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2008, Britain will need 25,000 doctors and 250,000 nurses while the United States will need around 1 million nurses in the next decade to meet the projected shortfall.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Migrant Women Are Big Money Senders To Home Country : UN

New York (ANTARA News) - Women constitute half of the estimated 190million international migrants worldwide and are responsible for the largest amount of remittances, the UN Population Fund said Wednesday. Women migrants sent home a total of 232 billion dollars in 2005, of which 167 billion dollars went to developing countries.

Remittances and foreign direct investments are the main sources of economic development in many developing countries.

In an annual report, A Passage to Hope: Women and International Migration, the UN population agency said that remittances could be even higher than reported because migrants often use informal channels. The report focused on the roles of migrant women and their economic impacts on their home countries.

It said that the international community only recently has begun to grasp how much migrant women contribute to the world economy and the social well-being of the population in their home countries.

"Women are migrating and will continue to do so," the report said as reported by DPA."Although women and youth have always made up a considerable proportion of international migrants, their contributions have largely gone unnoticed. Their voices must be heard.

"The report noted that migrants' total remittances were larger than the official development assistance provided by governments, which have been urged to set aside 7 per cent of their gross national products (GNPs) to help poor countries. Only the Nordic countries have met that target.

Of the 1 billion dollars Sri Lanka received in remittances in 1999, more than 62 per cent came from women migrants, the report said. The Philippines annually receives 6 billion dollars in remittances, one-third from women migrants.

Bangladeshi women working in Middle Eastern countries sent home 72 per cent of total remittances in their country, of which 52 per cent were earmarked for families' daily needs, health care and education. Brain drain But international migration has resulted in a brain drain for many countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the migration of women includes many nurses and physicians, depriving home countries of badly needed medical personnel.

Developed countries, where the ageing population requires more medical personnel, benefit from this migration. WHO set a minimum ratio of 100 nurses per 100,000 residents in all countries. Some poor countries have only 10 nurses per 100,000 inhabitants. By contrast, Finland and Norway each have 2,000 nurses per 100,000 inhabitants.

While developing countries have tried to stop the flow of skilled woman migrants, the demands for nurses and doctors has continued to grow in wealthy countries. WHO said that by 2008 Britain would need 25,000 more doctors and 250,000 more nurses than in 1997.

The US has projected the need for an additional 1 million nurses by 2020 because of the ageing population. Canada and Australia projected deficits of 78,000 nurses and 40,000 nurses, respectively, in the next four to five years. "This is partially owing to demographic ageing brought on by lower fertility rates and longer life expectancies in industrialized countries," the report said. (*)