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Friday, March 1, 2024

‘Reducing tariffs on rice imports an act of grave cruelty on farmers’

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President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. was right to reject proposals to temporarily reduce tariffs on imported rice, Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan of Bicol Saro party-list group said Thursday.

Yamsuan said the President’s action would spare small farmers “an act of grave cruelty” amid the peak harvest season.

While the government’s ultimate goal is to lower rice prices, it should not be done at the expense of the country’s 2.4 million rice farmers, who are expected to harvest over 5 million metric tons of palay in the peak months of September and October alone, Yamsuan said.

“The decision of our President is right. It is easy to say that we should lower tariffs to bring in more imported rice and pull down rice prices in the market. But who will suffer the loss? Our farmers who toiled hard to plant but would not profit from it will be the ones to suffer,” he said.

“We may not be an expert in economics, but common sense tells us that if you flood the market with imported rice, this would lead to depressed farmgate prices at a time when our farmers are in the midst of the harvest season,” the lawmaker said.

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“The band-aid solution of lowering rice tariffs at this time would be an act of grave cruelty to our farmers,” added Yamsuan, whose party-list organization represents the Bicol Region, which accounts for close to 7 percent of the country’s total rice production.

Lowering rice import tariffs would deprive farmers of a major source of assistance they badly need to modernize their sector and raise their incomes, Yamsuan added.

Under Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law, tariff collections from rice imports will go to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

This fund is used to finance the modernization of the rice sector, provide farmers with wider access to credit, training, mechanization and technology, along with extending direct assistance to them.

Citing government data, Yamsuan said almost P23 billion was collected in import duties from rice shipments entering the country last year.

In the first eight months of 2023, the Bureau of Customs has already collected P17 billion in rice import tariffs, he added.

“That’s P40 billion in 20 months, or an average of P2 billion a month. Hence, the proposal to cut rice import tariffs would starve farmers twice over – of income which they will lose because of competition from imported rice, and of assistance and benefits they will not get because of lower tariff collections,” Yamsuan said.

President Marcos, as the concurrent secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), had earlier thumbed down a recommendation to cut import tariffs on rice to help stabilize prices of the Filipino food staple.

The Chief Executive pointed to projections that global rice prices would decrease soon, which meant this was not the right time to suspend import tariffs on the grain.

Yamsuan said that on top of these projections, the DA had also reported that farmers are expected to harvest 2.3 million MT of palay (unhusked rice) in September, and another 2.9 million MT in October, or over 5 million MT, which would help stabilize rice prices in the market.

Along with the harvests since July, the DA expects the total local rice production to reach more than 11 million MT in the second semester of the year.

“If we lower rice tariffs in the middle of an abundant harvest season, our farmers will ask why they would still work hard when this would only lead to financial suicide? To encourage them to continue planting, they need to see that the government is implementing the right measures and cares for them,” Yamsuan stressed.

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