Group seeks permits to import onions, garlic

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MANILA, Philippines—A group of importers has asked the court to compel the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to issue importation permits for onions and garlic as it accused the agency of being selective despite the lifting of the quantitative import restriction.

The Philippine Federation of Food Industry Inc. (PFFII) filed an action for mandamus with the Manila Regional Trial Court against Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, BPI director Clarito Barron and Plant Quarantine Service (PQS) chief Luben Marasigan.

The BPI, through its attached agency PQS, issues import permits for plant and plant products through a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) clearance.

The PFFII said Republic Act No. 8178 repealed laws prohibiting the import of products including onions and garlic and yet “the DA (Department of Agriculture) has adopted a policy of not issuing SPS import clearance for onions and garlic since 2010.”

“The DA, through Secretary Alcala, justified the non-issuance by stating that the country has enough supply and such method is a way to curb smuggling of onions,” PFFII said.

The policy resulted in high prices, with onions reaching P210 per kilo and garlic, P120 per kilo in 2010, the group said.

“The production cost for a kilo of onion and garlic, including seedlings, fertilizers, irrigation and other farm input, is roughly P10 and P12, respectively. Thus, the high price of onions and garlic due to scarcity is a result of the obvious manipulation of the market in order to benefit a small group of individuals,” PFFII said.

Barron issued a memorandum suspending the issuance of permit but later issued another memorandum lifting the suspension.

Despite the lifting, the PQS continued to be selective in the issuance of SPS importation permit for garlic and onion to PFFII, although the group admitted it had been issued a few permits.

“The purpose of the issuance of SPS permit is to ensure that the imported agricultural products do not carry with them any plant infection or infestation from another country” and not to impose quantitative restriction nor to allow discretionary import licensing, the group said.

In a letter to PFFII, a copy of which was attached to the court case, Barron said, “we are likewise called to discharge such duty based on well-grounded data of any impending need or scarcity of it to prevent the hiatus that will prejudice the local market as well as our local producers.”

“Your request for us … will only unfairly compete with our local producers whose lives depend on the production of the same,” Barron said.

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