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Lawmakers wary of food tariff cuts

Senators have misgivings on lowering the tariffs on imported fish, vegetables, meat and other food products as a mitigating measure to curb the impact of inflation, saying it might hurt workers in the agricultural sector.

“It will reduce prices definitely, but at what cost to our local producers?” said Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Lacson said there should also be mitigating measures to cushion the impact of the lower tariffs on local farmers and hog and poultry raisers.

This developed as consumer group Laban Konsyumer Inc. asked the National Price Coordinating Council to freeze prices on basic necessities and prime commodities or BNPC until at least the first quarter of 2019.

“In two weeks’ time, we shall enter the ‘Ber’ months, where pressures on demand and supply of BNPC  can trigger another round of price increases,” Laban Konsyumer president Victorio Mario Dimagiba told NPCC Director Ronnel O. Abrenica in a letter on Aug. 8.

In light of the 5.7 percent inflation rate posted in July, the consumer group told the council, an agency under the Department of Trade and Industry, to also implement the following:

Discourage the use of easy open lids for canned products, which translates to a savings of at least 50 centavos per can.

Enforce the 10 percent discount of rice from the National Food Authority to the 50 percent poor of the population up to 20 kilos per month “as per express provision of TRAIN 1”; and

To issue the implementing guidelines on the VAT exemption of medicines for diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension effective Jan. 1, 2019 for compliance by all public or private hospitals and drugstores, including generics pharmacies nationwide.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, meanwhile, said some bills such as the universal health care bill can reduce family expenses if they are passed into law.

He also said allowing the importation of rice by private traders would also lower the cost of the staple.

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he supports the objective to arrest inflation, but said the country’s economic managers should think about the implication thoroughly.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the government must look out for the welfare of farmers and fishermen.

“Lowering the tariffs will lower the price. But this will run over farmers and fishermen. We need to protect Filipinos who are drowning in high prices,” he said in Filipino.

He also asked the government’s economic managers to ensure that mitigating measures are in place for millions of farmers before implementing rice tariffication.

“Rice tariffication will have a detrimental effect on 3.5 million Filipino rice farmers. Before this is implemented, the help for farmers ought to be in place,” he said.

The government plans to allot P10 billion in assistance to farmers to improve irrigation, establish small water impounding systems and provide them with better seeds and equipment.

Aquino also urged economic managers to consider his “Bawas Presyo Bill” that seeks to suspend the excise tax on fuel under the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) Law when the average inflation rate surpasses the annual inflation target over a three-month period.

Aquino said the bill will address the unprecedented inflation rate.

“My bill will institute a safeguard to allow us to rollback and suspend the excise tax on petroleum products,” he said, referring to Senate Bill No. 1798.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the economic managers will discuss further the tariff proposals and will make a recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte.

He said it was Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who made the suggestion to Duterte to issue an executive order to cut tariffs on fish, corn, and meat imports to temper inflation.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, meanwhile, has filed a resolution to look into the state of the fisheries industry so that permanent solutions, and not just stopgap measures, will guarantee a steady supply of fish.

Topics: Senator Panfilo Lacson , tariffs , National Price Coordinating Council , Victorio Mario Dimagiba
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