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COMMENTARY

New antismuggling initiative

05:13 AM January 16, 2018

There is a great need for a new antismuggling initiative that must include the private sector. At the Jan. 10 international affairs committee meeting of the public-private Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF), an Alyansa Agrikultura leader stated that the Department of Agriculture (DA) should pay as much attention to rampant smuggling similar to what it provides to international trade agreements.

A DA official said such effort was the mandate of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), and not the DA’s. Nevertheless, it was agreed that without the information, input, and involvement of the DA and private sector agriculture stakeholders, the BOC would be restricted in its fight against smuggling.

In 2005, the private sector officially worked with the government through the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Anti-Smuggling (Cocas). As a result, smuggling went down by 25 percent. Sadly, Cocas was abolished a year later. Since then, the rate has consistently gone up, hitting 36 percent in 2014.

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Private sector participation was again highlighted in 2015 when the public-private National Competitiveness Council (NCC) antismuggling committee met every month for meetings (held even inside the BOC conference room). Smuggling rate subsequently decreased to 31 percent in 2014 and 19 percent in 2015.

The bad news is that the monthly meetings of this committee composed of four departments (Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Finance, Justice) and private sector representatives were stopped in the latter part of 2016. In the last 18 months, only one meeting was conducted because it was not given priority by the then BOC Commissioner.

In addition, information flow between the BOC and Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), supposedly bound by a memorandum of agreement, also stopped. This even happened right after the private sector provided information to the then BOC Commissioner about some smuggling issue.

This time, new BOC Commissioner Isidro Lapeña should be commended for his welcoming private sector participation. We talked to him during the Senate hearings chaired by Senator Richard Gordon on the commendable smuggling expose of Senator Panfilo Lacson on the smuggling of shabu and other items.

Also as a result of last week’s PCAF meeting, there will now be a special meeting focusing on agriculture smuggling.

Below are five recommendations that will turn the tide when it comes to these efforts :

First, following Lapeña’s advocacy on private sector participation, the NCC Anti-Smuggling Committee must now resume its regular meetings and once more allow import information to be given to BOC’s authorized private sector representatives;

Second, like the other departments in the NCC’s anti-smuggling committee, the DA must send an official representative to consistently and responsibly participate in these meetings.

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Third, the DA, just like the DTI, should present a wholistic antismuggling plan for integration and synergy with BOC’s program.

Fourth, just as BOC has authorized private sector technical experts in critical industry sectors, it should do the same in agriculture.

Fifth, using the publicly accessible UN Trade Data (Google ‘UN Comtrade’), the DA should submit to the BOC a list of items on a so-called smuggling watch.

BOC cannot do this job alone. It must get all our full support. This year can be the banner year for the fight against agriculture smuggling.

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