Farmers groups say that importation is not the solution to rice supply problems, nor will it address the long-term food security concerns of the country.
In a position paper on the government’s move to liberalize rice imports under its so-called tariffication program, the Federation of Free Farmers and 25 other groups said the removal of quantitative restrictions should be handled carefully.
“We strongly advise that the removal of the QRs on rice imports should be handled carefully and prudently given the current uncompetitiveness of a large number of rice farmers against cheaper imports and the dangers of relying excessively on imports for the food security of the country,” the farmers said.
The farmers said the continued protection of the rice industry is imperative as the government conducts competitiveness-enhancing measures.
“Preserve as many policy tools and options as possible, and introduce effective safety nets to protect local farmers,” they urged the government.
“Introduce innovative and more effective programs for rice farmers, and provide the sustained budgetary support for such programs,” they added.
They also said the bound tariff rate should be set at the maximum possible allowed by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-Uruguay Round (GATT-UR) regulations—in support of the 180 percent rate proposed by the House version of the tariffication bill.
They argued that a high bound rate allows the government to adjust actual or applied tariff rates depending on market conditions. On the other hand, if the bound rate is set to a very low level, the government cannot impose a tariff higher than 40 percent even if the situation warrants it.
In this connection, they urged the government review its commitment to a 35-percent special tariff for Thailand and Vietnam, two major rice producers.
The position paper represented the views of the FFF, the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, Pambansang Katipuan ng Samahan sa Kanayunan, Pambasang Katipunan ng Samahan sa Kanayunan, the Kaisahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, and others.
The Palace on Friday said the National Food Authority Council has authorized private traders to import rice beyond the minimum access volume to bring rice prices down.
He said the Palace has asked the cooperation of the NFA, headed by Jason Aquino, on the NFA Council’s move to stabilize rice prices.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said it would be better if the private sector did the rice importation because this would be “faster” and would “avoid corruption.”
He added that this was the direction the administration was headed anyway, with the rice tariffication bill.
Roque said the Senate is also expected to pass the bill, which he said would reduce rice smuggling.
“If the importation for every trader is legalized, the incentive to smuggle would disappear,” he said.
At present, Roque said NFA remains under the supervision of the Office of the Executive Secretary.
It is up to President Rodrigo Duterte if NFA would be brought back to the supervision of the Department of Agriculture, he added.
Also on Friday, Senator Francis Escudero asked the Justice Department and the National Bureau of Investigation to look into possible economic sabotage, given the rice shortages being felt in some parts of the country.
The government, he said, must protect the agriculture sector, especially the farmers from traders and importers, who by their illegal importation of agriculture products, especially rice, significantly affect the production, availability of supply and stability of prices, and the food security of the state, Escudero said.
He also lambasted the “undeniable undervaluation” in most import documents for rice, which clearly violates Republic Act No. 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.
Selling undervalued imports at a higher price was not only illegal, it is “downright avaricious and immoral,” Escudero said.
Furthermore, he asked the Department of Trade and Industry to put a cap on the price of rice, as importers and traders are already taking advantage of the rice shortage in some parts of the country.
The Zamboanga City government was forced to declare the city under a state of calamity due to a rice shortage that has pushed prices for the grain up to P70 per kilo.
However, last week, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the crisis was “officially over” after the supply stabilized due to the arrival of fresh stocks from the National Food Authority and other nearby provinces where harvest has already started.
Senator Nancy Binay urged Malacañang to review the government’s palay buying policy from local farmers as farm-gate prices of unmilled rice continue to rise.
By practice, she said the NFA is supposed to buy palay from local farmers and producers.
But with farm gate prices at P23 per kilo average, the NFA can’t move because they are only allowed to buy at between P17 and P20 per kilo.
In April, NFA asked the NFA Council that they be allowed to buy palay at P25 per kilo but Malacañang gave them a ceiling of P20.
The senator said Malacañang should now intervene and push the NFA Council to be sensitive enough in helping local farmers while striking a balance between importing rice and buying locally.
Senator Cynthia Villar also urged the DTI to recommend to the President a ceiling on the price of rice.
The NFA’s Aquino has ordered the creation of a technical working group of department managers to coordinate with other government enforcement agencies in their anti-smuggling operations.
Aquino cited the President’s call during his last State of the Nation Address to resolve the artificial rice shortage caused by hoarders and their protectors.
Aquino said the group will coordinate closely with different intelligence and enforcement agencies like the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Bureau of Customs, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Ports Authority, the Philippine National Police, NBI and the Philippine Competition Commission. With PNA
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