PRESIDENT Arroyo signed on January 1 of this year the China-Asean Free Trade Agreement (Cafta). Under this agreement the six founding members of Asean, among them the Philippines, and China will drop tariffs on Asian goods from 9.8 percent to 0.1 percent, while the Asean countries will cut tariffs on Chinese goods from 12.8 percent to 0.6 percent.

According to Walden Bello, a well-known economist of the University of the Philippines, the China-Asean free trade agreement will mean acceleration of the erosion of our industry and agriculture owing to very cheap Chinese goods, at the same time that investments will be flowing to China.

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This complete trade liberalization can mean for the Philippines a path to economic ruin, according to Bello. Is our President, who is also an economist, not aware of the detrimental effects of this free trade agreement with such a strong economic power like China for the Philippines which has a weak and underdeveloped economy? Both the industrial and the agricultural sector should be protected against unfair competition from a giant like China.

Our farmers should be subsidized so that we can be self-sufficient in food production, at least with respect to our rice production. We should be able to produce our own Philippine made products. And above all, we should be able to provide our labor force enough job opportunities so that our people shouldn't have to take refuge abroad in order to find a decent living.

Talking about cheap Chinese goods some of these are just garbage. To give an example: a few weeks ago I bought a can opener at the grocery department of SM. The can opener was quite cheap, about P 250, and it looked very solid. I couldn't try it out, though, right there in the department store but at home after using it two times I could indeed throw this beautiful looking can opener in the garbage can. It was completely useless and I had to use a knife to open the can. That is of course the Filipino way of opening a can, with a knife, but it is still more effective than the Chinese way.

Since I prefer to open my cans with a can opener, I went back to SM and looked in the other departments for a real can opener but everywhere I found only the same kind of cheap Chinese can openers. Then I went to Oro Rama in Cogon and there I found indeed a real good can opener, US made, with prices ranging from P 600 to P 700. When I complained at the service counter in SM I was told that I could file a complaint in writing to the management of SM and that I probably could have my can opener refunded.

I decided to write this column instead and sell my can opener for scrap iron. The point I want to make here is this: I have nothing against cheap Chinese products. You know beforehand that the product is of lower quality and will not last long. But to sell a piece of garbage for something that looks like a can opener is deceiving the customer.

In this case, you cannot look the horse in his mouth, something you do when you buy a horse. I do not blame Mr. Henry Sy for promoting Chinese products in his stores. After all he is a Chinese but I do blame him if he sells garbage in his department store and he should rather sell quality products even if they are US made. At least that is what the owner of Oro Rama (a Chinese?) is doing. I am not a Chinese neither an American but as a Dutchman I can vouch for Dutch products as quality products, like Dutch Baby milk or Dutch Boy paint. That is Dutch treat! And then you have also That's Entertainment! but that is quite another story to talk about another time.

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