No more fancy rice if Piñol has his way

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said Thursday he would seek a ban on the importation of “fancy” varieties next year, now that the National Food Authority is under his supervision.

“What is happening is, instead of bringing down the price, [we have] imported fancy rice—asmine, long grains—[which] are actually being sold at as much as P58 per kilo. So where are the low prices?” Piñol said in Filipino on UNTV.

“Next year, the importing of fancy rice should be disallowed. Let’s let local farmers plant the fancy rice and sell these at a good price. Our imported rice should fill the supply gap—and this should not be fancy rice,” he continued.

Piñol said he check on the price of commodities at the Commonwealth Market Thursday, and found that traders have complied with the price ceiling on several vegetables, such as onions.

Red and white onions now sell at P50 to P60 per kilogram from the previous P100 to P120 per kilo, he said.

However, he expressed dismay over the price of well-milled rice, still stands at P55 per kilo.

Piñol said his priority as the new chairman of the NFA Council is to solve the rice mess and lower the price of the grain by increasing the volume of NFA rice in the market.

“The only way we could address this problem is to flood the market with NFA rice,” he said. “This is the only way we can control the price manipulation of the traders and middlemen in the market.”

Piñol said he already has President Rodrigo Duterte’s go-signal to push through with more imports to fill up all NFA rice outlets in the country, noting that the NFA still has P12 billion to use.

The Palace said the President expects the Department of Agriculture to be efficient, following his executive order transferring supervision of the NFA, Philippine Coconut Authority, and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority from the Office of the President.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the Palace expects closer coordination among the agencies, now that the DA is in control.

“We are expecting that the Department of Agriculture will be efficient in determining when the country needs to import rice because they have the data themselves,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing Thursday.

“[They know] how much the local farmers have produced, and how much we need to import to supply the demand of the market,” he said.

“The agencies were separated in a time when Senator [Francis] Pangilinan needed a job,” Roque said, referring to the Aquino administration’s transfer of supervision of the NFA to a food czar. 

“The NFA needs a seamless importation of rice as we need to have an ample supply of it. We need to have a balance and enough supply, but not to the extent that it will affect the earnings of our... farmers,” he said.

On Monday, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 2, stating that “the supervision over the NFA, PCA, and FPA is hereby transferred to the DA.”

He then ordered the reorganization of the NFA Council, making the Agriculture chief and the NFA administrator as its chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said putting the NFA under the control and direction of the Agriculture secretary was the right move, saying there should not be two conductors and two separate orchestras when it comes to rice.

“It should be one symphony under the baton of one conductor,” he said. “I hope that this move will make rice policies and programs clear, cohesive and complementary.”

Meanwhile, in his sponsorship speech on Senate Bill No. 1998: Replacing Quantitative Import Restrictions on Rice with Tariffs, Recto said the rice tariff rates balance the interest of the farmer and the consumer.

He said the gradations are essential because a one-rule for all does not apply, and some policy nuances are needed.

For the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) committed by the Philippines to the World Trade Organization, the rates are as follows:

* For ASEAN Member States, 35 percent or the import duty rate commitment of the Philippines for rice importation, pursuant to the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement or ATIGA; and;

* For non-ASEAN states, 50 percent or the tariff equivalent calculated in accordance with the WTO agreement on agriculture upon the expiration of the waiver relating to the special treatment for rice of the Philippines, whichever is higher.

The President may impose a lower applied tariff rate when a shortage looms or the buffer dips dangerously.

On the other hand, he said it provides for a special rice safeguard duty to protect local growers from sudden or extreme price fluctuations. 

Topics: Manny Piñol , National Food Authority , Commonwealth Market , President Rodrigo Duterte
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