Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol is creating a new unit that will inspect all agricultural and fishery products entering the country to stop smuggling.
“I will sign a department order creating the Agricultural and Fisheries Trade Facilitation Unit which will effectively be stationed in the different ports of entry of the country to make sure that agricultural and fisheries imports entering the country are first examined by our people before Customs,” Piñol said in a news briefing.
He said the newly created group would be stationed in different points of entry or Customs zones to lessen the possibility of smuggling.
“The legal basis for that is the Food Safety Act of 2013, Section 12 B which states that imported food shall undergo cargo clearance and inspection procedures by the DA and DOH at the first port of entry to determine compliance with national regulations,” Piñol said.
He said the trade facilitation group would be headed by a former military man. He said the inspection of all agricultural shipments would be mandatory.
The DA chief said the inspection by DA and DOH should take place prior to the assessment for tariff and other charges by the Bureau of Customs.
“The BOC and Association of International Shipping Lines shall provide DA and DOH documents such as the inward foreign manifests of arriving vessels to enable the DA and the DOH to identify shipments requiring food safety inspections. Shipments not complying national regulations shall be disposed according to policies established by the DA and DOH,” said Piñol.
Piñol said at present, the DA’s inspection was taking place after the Customs’ process.
“So we will invoke this provision of the law that we should inspect first. DA will determine first whether the shipment complied with our sanitary regulations,” Piñol said.
Piñol said the order aimed to eliminate smuggling in the country. He also ordered a validation of all permits issued for the importation of meat and poultry products in the wake of the proliferation of recycled permits that he said were being used in the technical smuggling of such products.
He said a technical working group was created to assess and handle the issuance of new permits effective upon the issuance of an order.
Piñol said he made the move based on a United Nations report on the volume of meat and offals imported by the country over the last few months.
He said the DA and the Bureau of Customs were alarmed by reports that companies with import permits issued under the previous administration were caught “recycling” such permits twice or thrice to facilitate smuggling.
“We are not saying that we are stopping all importations. What we just want is to clean up the issuance of permits. As long as they are legitimate importations, we will not stop them. We want a uniform imposition of tariff,” Piñol said.
Agriculture undersecretary for operations Ariel Cayanan said the agency was able to re-validate more than 2,300 import clearance certificates so far.
“If they are legitimate and law-abiding importers, they should welcome this, because this would actually cleanse their ranks,” Piñol said.
“We have to do this to protect the interest of government which is being deprived of the appropriate tariffs from smugglers. And most important, the safety of our consumers and the environment. To allay fears of possible spoilage of frozen products, the DA has ordered their release, requiring only an affidavit of undertaking from their importers,” the agriculture chief said.